Parliamentary association chair defends Canada-China group as critics call for its suspension

Engage for what purpose when the two Michaels are still detained under awful conditions, repression of religious minorities such as the Uighurs continue, and China proceeds to end Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Wilful naiveté at best. Arguments mirror those used by the International Metropolis Secretariat to justify the holding of Metropolis in Beijing that our petition successfully cancelled.

These kinds of contacts should be suspended until the Michaels are released at a minimum:

As Beijing’s behaviour grows increasingly strong-willed and the Canada-China relationship continues to flounder, some are calling for the suspension of a parliamentary association between the two countries, while one of the co-chairs says the group facilitates dialogue.

The 50-member Canadian-side of the Canada-China Legislative Association, which was founded in 1998, is composed of MPs and Senators who work to “promote better understanding” in the bilateral relationship on both common interests and differences.

“There’s so much to be gained from maintaining that discussion,” Independent Senator Paul Massicotte (De Lanaudière, Que.) told The Hill Times. “We have an immense interest in this relationship—[from a] human rights point of view, economically, future growth, climate change. There’s so much to gain from our relationship, in spite of the fact that we have serious disagreements about some key issues.”

Sen. Massicotte is one of two co-chairs of the Canada-China Legislative Association. Liberal MP Han Dong (Don Valley North, Ont.), the group’s other co-chair, didn’t respond to an interview request.

“Its [purpose is] to be frank and chat with each other and maintain as good relations as we can, in spite of possible differences—in this case, serious differences between our approach as a country and our value system and their thought pattern,” Sen. Massicotte said about the association. “But just because you disagree with somebody doesn’t mean you put an end to it.”

He said if the association is suspended, the dialogue between the two countries would be damaged.

Macdonald-Laurier Institute fellow Shuvaloy Majumdar called for the association’s suspension in a National Post op-ed last week, citing China’s National Party Congress’ imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong which threatens the “one country, two systems” foundation of the region.

“Canadian Parliament has no business legitimizing the masquerade of Beijing’s National Party Congress as it institutionally represses Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and constitutional rights,” wrote Mr. Majumdar, a former policy director to multiple foreign affairs ministers in the government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne (Saint-Maurice-Champlain, Que.) released a joint statement last week with his counterparts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, calling the imposition of the national security law “a deep concern” and “in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally-binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration.”

Mr. Majumdar told The Hill Times that the parliamentary association gives the Chinese Communist Party “unrivalled access to lobby Canadian Parliamentarians.”

“If you were interested in the spirit of dialogue with the Chinese people, then why not also pursue similar arrangements with Hong Kong’s Legislative Council or with Taiwan’s Parliament in conjunction with the National Party Congress?” he noted. “That’s not happened. So this is not about dialogue.”

Mr. Majumdar added that China’s National Congress has “broken faith” with the sprit of “honest dialogue” with the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong and that they are “subverting and distorting” an understanding of China in Canada that is coming at the cost of Canadian interests.

“It ought not to be tolerated.”

Sen. Massicotte, who met with Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu alongside Mr. Dong on Feb. 26, said he raises the issues of disagreement in all the meetings the association has with Chinese officials.

“You can do it politely,” he said. “You can raise up issues that you don’t agree on, but you don’t have to be disagreeable.”

“Usually we’ll say we agree to disagree because we don’t have the same starting point or same culture. We don’t brush over our differences,” said Sen. Massicotte, calling discussions with the Chinese ambassador “very cordial.”

Conservative MP Michael Cooper (St. Albert-Edmonton, Alta.), vice-chair of the Canada-China Legislative Association, said there should be a consideration to the association’s role going forward.

“I think we do need to review the activities of the legislative association,” he said. “Does that mean suspending the association? Perhaps. But we need to have those discussions in light of what needs to be and what will be a different relationship between Canada and China, at least in the short and intermediate term, as a result of the fallout of COVID-19 and the unlawful actions the Chinese Communist regime has taken against Hong Kong.”

Mr. Cooper said that there needs to be an overall evaluation of Canada’s bilateral relationship with China stemming from how Beijing handled the COVID-19 pandemic, including the use of Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese officials who were involved in “silencing and jailing whistleblowers” in the early days of the virus’ outbreak and officials “involved in the cover-up” of the pandemic.

He said the parliamentary association has not met as an executive since the start of the year.

“So at this point, the association, speaking as an executive, has been inactive,” Mr. Cooper said.

Debate over parliamentary group comes at tipping point for Canada-China relations

It was feared that a B.C. court judge ruling against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou last week on a “double criminality” principle, which continued her extradition trial, would further inflame tensions between Canada and China.

The Chinese Communist Party-supported Global Times stated that the decision would bring about the “worst-ever” period in the bilateral relationship. So far, retaliation has been muted, as reported by The Globe and Mail, with a Chinese government spokesperson commenting on the 50thanniversary of Canada-China relations

Ms. Meng was arrested in December 2018 at the behest of the United States. The arrest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China soon followed in apparent retaliation. The two Canadians have been detained by Chinese authorities ever since.

The parliamentary association took a trip to China in January 2019 shortly after the arrests of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, during which then-co-chair and now-retired senator Joseph Day said the detained Canadians were not on the agenda. Mr. Cooper, who was also on the trip, brought the cases up and said raising the issues didn’t help “in the sense that they are still in China,” but added at the same time that discussing the issue “did not hurt.”

Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques, who served in the post from 2012 to 2016, said the Canada-China Legislative Association “can be useful.”

He added that it takes “a bit of guts” for Canadian Parliamentarians to raise contentious issues with Chinese authorities, noting that he has experienced foreign affairs ministers that were reticent to raise contentious issues with China.

“If it’s properly managed, we should proceed,” he said. “But, on the other hand, if something dramatic were to occur in Hong Kong, I think we will have to think about sanctions against China and then maybe the suspension of those [association] visits would be required.”

“The key is preparation,” said Mr. Saint-Jacques of when Canadian Parliamentarians in the association travel to China.

He said that when he was ambassador he would “regularly” meet with the members of the association when he returned to Ottawa to give briefings on important issues and prepare them for upcoming trips.

When the group arrived in China, the visit would start with a breakfast at the embassy to give the MPs and Senators the latest information that Canadian diplomats in China have collected before they met with Chinese officials, he said.

With Parliamentarians from many different parties and political ideologies, Mr. Saint-Jacques said it gives the Chinese officials an insight into the Canadian system where politicians don’t speak with one voice, unlike in the Chinese system.

While he said that the association can serve to legitimize the National Congress, it is better than the alternative of no contact.

“If you have no contacts, then you leave them to think that things work the same way here than over there,” he said.

Brock University professor Charles Burton, a former counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, said he has long been calling for the suspension of the association.

“I feel that we are being played by the Communist Party in this association,” said Prof. Burton, a Macdonald-Laurier Institute fellow.

He said the parliamentary association serves as a way for the Chinese government to establish “moral equivalency” between Canada’s Parliament and China’s non-democratic National Congress.

“The Members of Parliament who go have a very pleasant time in China with delicious banquets and interesting tourism … but I don’t see it as furthering the interest of Canada in any way,” he said.

Prof. Burton said Parliamentarians can engage with Chinese diplomats in Canada through other forums such as the Special House Committee on Canada-China Relations.

“Typically, Parliamentarians don’t have the expertise to represent Canada’s position effectively and tend to be put into photo-ops and make joint statements that support the Chinese Communist Party’s agenda in Canada,” he said.

Since the creation of the association, there has been no adoption of democratic reform in the National Congress, Prof. Burton said, adding that the group hasn’t had “any positive impact” on fostering the development of parliamentary democracy in China.

Source: Parliamentary association chair defends Canada-China group as critics call for its suspension

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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