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Chinese ambassador says human rights, democracy shouldn’t factor in trade deal

By Chelsea Nash      

The newly arrived ambassador says changing Canadian public opinion of China will be one of his biggest priorities during his mandate in Ottawa.

Chinese Ambassador Shaye Lu, who arrived in Ottawa on Feb. 28, is a bit of a history buff. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia
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China’s new ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, disagrees with his counterpart John McCallum when it comes to including mention of human rights in a free trade agreement between the two countries.

Just last week, Mr. McCallum said human rights would be part and parcel of a potential free trade agreement between Canada and China, as reported by the Canadian Press. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau backed the statement up, saying it was his intention to “grow our economy and defend our jobs” while also “standing up for” Canadian values and principles.  

Mr. Lu was firm in his opposition to this idea, however.

“I think it’s an insult to democracy and human rights to take them into negotiations. If so, people will ask how much democracy and human rights cost,” the ambassador said in an interview at his embassy on Monday. He spoke via a translator.

Mr. Lu, who arrived in Canada on Feb. 28, said he considered the proposition of including “non-trade factors” in a free trade agreement to be “unfair.”

China has offered to enter into trade negotiations with Canada for years, and the Liberal government agreed to enter into exploratory talks towards a deal in September of last year. 

Mr. Lu outlined “advancing talks” on the free trade agreement as one of his main priorities while posted here, so as to “create more favourable conditions to expand our trade.”

While Mr. Lu may have different opinions than his counterpart in Beijing, Mr. McCallum, he said Mr. McCallum’s posting to China, as Canada’s former immigration minister, was significant for the Canada-China relationship, and “the right choice.” He said Mr. McCallum has a “very good understanding” of Mr. Trudeau’s position on China.

Mr. Trudeau has made an effort on the foreign affairs file to engage with countries such as China, and Russia. While Canada might disagree with human rights practices in these countries, Mr. Trudeau maintains that engagement is the best way to get a message across.

This may prove to be a difficult task, however, given the clear contradiction between Mr. McCallum’s wish for human rights to be addressed in a trade deal, and Mr. Lu’s outright rejection of such an idea. It’s also not the only area in which they disagree. Mr. McCallum said on Monday that Canada and China are a “long, long” way off from an extradition treaty, as reported by The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Lu maintains that an extradition treaty between the two governments would be mutually beneficial. On the Canadian side, China’s human rights record is a problem. Canada has a policy in place that prevents it from releasing foreign fugitives to countries that use capital punishment, torture, or other inhumane ways of punishing criminals.

Canada has sent prisoners back to China when the government was assured there would be no human rights abuses.

“We shouldn’t refuse judiciary and law enforcement, even though we have different judicial systems,” Mr. Lu said.  

But while Mr. McCallum works on improving Canada-China trade relations and tries to advocate for human rights in China, Mr. Lu says he will be spending a good chunk of his time in Ottawa “to introduce Canada [to China] in an objective manner, and seek their support.”

He said while Chinese and Canadian relations have become stronger in recent years, and that is generally reflected in the “mainstream…sometimes the negative voice sounds louder.”

Since his arrival, Mr. Lu said he’s noticed Canadians sometimes wonder why China cannot “act the same as Canada.”

Mr. Lu said his time spent as vice-mayor of the Chinese city Wuhan led him to understand the complexities of “managing affairs” in a country as big as China. “It demands wisdom,” he said. “Based on the national conditions of China, it doesn’t work if we just follow foreign examples.”

He also said that while human rights and democracy might not be the same as they are in Canada, critics of the Chinese government should compare today’s China with China twenty years ago. Over the past two decades, China has been able to drastically reduce its poverty rate, for instance, nearly eliminating urban poverty.

Aside from having been a vice-mayor, Mr. Lu has also held multiple positions in the Chinese department of foreign affairs, including most recently, as director general for the bureau of policy research for the foreign affairs office of the Communist Party of China. He has also served as ambassador to Senegal. His arrival at the end of February marked his very first visit to Canada.

So far, he said he finds Ottawa to be “very fresh,” and not too noisy. “It snows a lot,” he said with a smile, something that is not common in Beijing. But he is looking forward to enjoying Ottawa’s other seasons.

Mr. Lu admits his English is not the best, which is why he conducted his interview via a translator. He is more comfortable in French, though he prefers Chinese.

He is busy settling into Ottawa with his wife, Liwen Wang. The couple has one son, who is currently studying history at school in China. Mr. Lu’s son seemingly takes after his father, who also admits he enjoys history. Currently, he is studying Canadian history in his spare time, and hopes to visit Ottawa’s many museums and galleries when he has some time off from meeting and greeting Canadian government officials, academics, journalists, and fellow diplomats.

cnash@hilltimes.com

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