China’s leaders need to loosen up on state visits
By now, the likes of Foreign Minister Wang Yi should know that questions on human rights will crop up, and they should be well-prepared
State visits by China’s leaders often not only provoke controversies, but sometimes leave behind much bitterness, recrimination and division that linger long afterwards within the local communities.
This phenomenon perhaps highlights the difficulties faced by Beijing in managing its image abroad and getting its message across.
The so-called 818 Incident in Hong Kong is one example. That visit to the University of Hong Kong on August 18, 2011 by then vice-premier Li Keqiang (李克強) sent the school into a police lockdown. The subsequent controversies and protests helped radicalise the student movement and sent HKU chief Tsui Lap-chee packing.
More recently, Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s (王毅) visit to Ottawa last month has proved to be highly divisive within the Canadian-Chinese community. The subsequent furore has been long and convoluted.
The latest development has Ontario’s International Trade Minister Michael Chan, widely seen as being friendly to Beijing, demanding an apology from Conservative MP Jason Kennedy and threatening to sue him if he does not apologise.
Kennedy, who has just announced his bid for the leadership of the Alberta Conservative Party, has criticised Chan as being “an unofficial ambassador for [China]” and never criticising its human rights record.
Kennedy’s criticism, which was quoted by The Globe and Mail, was in response to comments made by Chan in which he defended Wang and China’s human rights record. Chan is also suing The Globe, Canada’s national newspaper, for defamation.
Chan’s comments were a response to Wang berating a Canadian journalist for addressing a question about China’s human rights issue to Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion during a press conference. Ottawa has filed a formal complaint to Beijing about Wang’s interruption.
A Canadian-Chinese columnist, Gao Bingchen, who published under the pen name Huang Hebian, has claimed the popular Global Chinese Press tried to drop his long-time column after he criticised Wang and Chan.
Another Canadian-Chinese columnist, Xin Feng, said he had received death threats after writing critically about the diplomatic incident.
The columnists’ complaints were highlighted at a recent press conference in which a group of Canadian-Chinese activists strongly hinted that recent immigrants from the mainland had not only failed to adopt Canada’s liberal-democratic values but were importing their own political beliefs and practices into the country.
All these accusations and recriminations wouldn’t have happened if Wang had let Dion answer the reporter’s question.