Pro-democracy activists urge Trudeau to show some ‘guts’ dealing with China

28-Nov-2019 Intellasia | NationalPost | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The Trudeau government in August called for an end to the violence, and for China to respect human rights in Hong Kong, but has largely been quiet since then

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists are urging prime minister Justin Trudeau to find some “guts” and make like his American counterparts to hold China to account for ugly protests in the semi-autonomous region.

Emily Lau, chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party’s foreign affairs committee, was a key speaker at the weekend’s Halifax Security Forum, where she expressed cynicism over Canada’s timidness in criticising China.

“Is it because if you do it, you will make less money? You will make enemies? So your country, your companies, will get less rich,” she told the audience, a cross-section of defence, security, and diplomatic officials, and academics. Nova Scotia, in particular, has seen its lobster fishery boom on the back of huge demand from the Chinese middle class.

“They know your game very well,” she said.

Defence minister Harjit Singh Sajjan, who attended the conference, insisted that China was not an adversary, and that Canada was still keen to move forward on new trade deals but only if China follows the rules.

Scenes of protest have dominated Hong Kong since the spring. Thousands have been injured, some seriously, as police have deployed steadily more aggressive tactics to break up the mass demonstrations that have paralysed much of the semi-autonomous region within China. Thousands more have been detained, and Amnesty International reports that beatings and torture have been used by security officials there.

Canada released a statement in August calling for an end to the violence, and for China to respect the unique political and human rights of its citizens in Hong Kong. The Trudeau government has largely been quiet since then.

Newly appointed Foreign Affairs minister Francois-Philippe Champagne met with his Chinese counterpart in Japan at a G20 summit last week, though he did raise Hong Kong, his office hasn’t shared details of that conversation. He did, however, press China on the detention of two Canadian citizens. The pair have been held ever since Canada arrested Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou, on a US arrest warrant, last December.

Before the diplomatic row, Ottawa was forging ahead on an extradition treaty with the autocratic country, with an eye to eventually signing a full free trade deal.

In Halifax, Lau and Figo Chan, a Hong Kong protester who has felt the sting of tear gas from local police, accepted the John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service on behalf of the people of Hong Kong. Both sat down with the Post for an interview.

Chan said the citizens of Hong Kong aren’t going to back down. “It is a sleeping tiger. And it’s woken up.”

Lau, who spent nearly two decades on the Hong Kong Legislative Council and served as chair of the Democratic Party, had some choice words for Trudeau.

“I hope that the prime minister would have some guts and a sense of dignity and courage,” she said.

In the days before the weekend’s forum, the US Congress nearly unanimously passed the Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Act. The bill would penalise China, should it limit Hong Kong’s independent economic status, and sanction officials found to be responsible for human rights violations.

President Donald Trump has hinted he may veto the bill, calling President Xi Jinping a “friend of mine.” But a bipartisan Congressional delegation in Halifax signalled its intent to override the veto, and Trump’s own national security adviser told the forum: “That bill is going to become law.”

Champagne’s office did not answer a direct question as to whether Canada is considering similar legislation.

Erin O’Toole, the Conservative foreign affairs critic, told the Post that he and his party want more to be done to press China on Hong Kong, and other matters of trade and human rights. “We will be talking with our U.S counterparts in the next few weeks about their bill and wider concerns about China,” he said, adding that his party is open to supporting sanctions against certain officials.

Cong Peiwu, the Chinese ambassador to Canada, warned Ottawa against getting involved. “If somebody here is really trying to push the decision to have this kind of law like that in the United States, it’s very dangerous, we would certainly be firmly opposed to that,” he said at a press conference in Ottawa on Friday.

Lau said that statement is evidence of Beijing’s anxiety over Western attention, as they fear the possibility of sanctions and trade penalties. “The Chinese are very afraid that it may become an infectious disease and spread around the world, and I hope it does.”

The US legislation is enormously symbolic for protesters like Chan. “I think those actions will make the police stop,” he said.

On Sunday, the democratic camp scored a victory in local elections. Champagne’s office did not offer congratulations, instead a spokesperson said simply: “Canada is pleased that the District Council elections in Hong Kong proceeded peacefully.”

As Canada demurs on Hong Kong, it is also racked with indecision as to whether to let Huawei build part of its 5G telecommunications infrastructure. Robert O’Brien, Trump’s national security adviser, offered a stern warning to Ottawa on Saturday. “Once you bring

your Trojan horse into the city… it’s going to be very difficult to avoid the consequences.”

Lau said Canada’s timid approach is exactly what China has hoped to elicit from its trading partners.

“They think you’re fools.”


Category: Hong Kong

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