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Lunch with Yang Jiechi, China's foreign minister

By Kate Heartfield, The Ottawa Citizen
June 23, 2009

I just got back from the Chateau Laurier in downtown Ottawa, where China's foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, gave a speech at a lunch hosted by the Canada China Business Council.

I'm prepared to accept the argument that trade between our two countries is mutually beneficial. There's an argument, I suppose, for putting our disagreements over human rights squarely into the political forum, and separating that from the business relationship we have. If the business community wanted to have a Chinese politician speak purely about stuff like, say, the failure of the Doha round and what it means for international business, then I'd see nothing wrong with that. Whenever anyone criticizes a Canadian company for doing business in China, the company says: Look. We're business people. This has nothing to do with politics.

But that's a lie. The Canada-China business commmunity doesn't avoid politics; it just avoids political opinions that run contrary to the propaganda spread by the totalitarian regime. At today's lunch, John Baird, Jim Flaherty and Joe Clark stood and applauded a man who warned Canada against "interfering" in China's affairs, and asserted that Tibet has been "an inalienable part of China's core territory since ancient times" (a demonstrable falsehood), and accused "the Dalai" of trying to trick China into granting Tibet independence, and swore that China would never relinquish its claim to Taiwan. A more political speech would be difficult to imagine.

Bombardier was a major sponsor of the lunch. How is it not interfering with China's affairs when a heavily taxpayer-subsidized Canadian company like Bombardier builds a rail link into Tibet to help China speed up its cultural genocide there? Maybe politics and business aren't that easy to separate after all.

And how come Canada's not allowed to interfere in China's affairs, but China's allowed to run guns to the likes of Robert Mugabe and Than Shwe? Why doesn't China stop intefering in the affairs of Burma and Zimbabwe?

I would have liked to ask Yang these questions, but the media weren't allowed to ask him anything.

UPDATE: My colleague Mike Blanchfield reports that the CCBC didn't allow Christina Spencer, who writes for the Sun Media chain into the lunch. Tina was my first boss here at the Citizen and is a first-rate reporter. Mike writes:

While no reason was given as to why Spencer was barred from the speech, she has for years written articles critical of China, including a column in 2001 for the Ottawa Citizen that called for a boycott of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

If it really is the case that the CCBC was trying to keep out journalists who've been critical of China, they probably should have done some research on me (see here for one example; here for another.)

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