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Canada Looks for Value in Foreign Policy

emerson_china011208.jpgGeoffrey York, a journalist from the Globe and Mail whom I know and respect greatly, had a very interesting article run in the paper on Friday about International Trade Minister David Emerson’s decision to back down from making any commentary on human rights during a visit to Beijing. This discussion of Canada’s dedication to promoting values in foreign policy is something we also frequently see in debates over European values with regard to relations to Russia. Indeed, China is not alone in holding back business opportunities as way to discourage criticism of human rights or repression from international partners. We all also recall how relations between Canada and China soured after the visit of the Dalai Lama, a lesson which was likely taken to heart behind closed doors in Ottawa. Emerson himself seemed rather straightforward and honest about the purpose of his diplomatic approach during the latest visit. He told the Epoch Times: “Our general approach on human rights and democracy is to operate on two tracks. We do make our views known, we’re very open and candid with our views on human rights and democracy and rule of law…we do not think that has to necessarily get in the way of carrying on trade investment and building a strong commercial relationship.” However, there was only one of these two “tracks” evident in the last visit – a focus on business, and no public comments even about the issue of harvesting organs of prisoners of conscience. As Geoffrey York writes in his report: “Mr. Emerson’s decision is indicative of how the Harper government has struggled with how to promote human rights in China at a time when Canadian business leaders have urged it to tone down the rhetoric. Chinese state media have criticized Canada for “harping” on human rights, and Canadian business leaders have fretted that they could lose business opportunities because of China’s unhappiness with the Harper government’s emphasis on human rights.” David Emerson’s conduct in China is more of an aberration than the norm for Canada. The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a very strong ethical record of promoting principles and values in Canada’s international relations, and we sincerely hope that the Emerson-style diplomacy is not indicative of a new future trend.