My Take

When it comes to journalists, Wang Yi needs to grow some skin

Chinese foreign minister’s verbal spat with a Canadian reporter over human rights was unnecessary and undiplomatic

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 June, 2016, 12:39am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 June, 2016, 1:36am

For his successful visit to Canada, Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅 ) managed to have it all overshadowed by his outburst against a reporter. This is most unfortunate.

By throwing a temper tantrum in front of the cameras, Wang got Canadians talking about what he least wanted them to worry about. Instead of recognising the positive outcomes in talks with Ottawa about enhancing trade between the two countries, the Canadian news media has been filled with angry arguments about China’s human rights record and its real or perceived aggressive posture on the world stage.

The iPolitics reporter asked at a press conference in Ottawa about the jailing of Canadian missionary Kevin Garratt on charges of espionage and China’s human right records.

Wang must have been briefed about Garratt’s case by his staff, and rehearsed countless times for answers to questions about human rights. After all, what else would a Canadian politics reporter ask?

But Wang blew his top. “Your question is full of prejudice against China and arrogant ... This is totally unacceptable,” he said, adding that asking such questions were “irresponsible”.

Canada’s PM complains to China about minister’s treatment of reporter

Wang could have turned it into a teachable moment about China’s unprecedented success at raising the living standards of hundreds of millions; or that developing countries cannot be judged by the same standards as developed ones. Indeed, he did start to reply along these lines. So why the inexplicable anger for China’s top diplomat?

Beijing must recognise Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is not David Cameron’s Conservative one in Britain. The latter hails a “golden era” with China. Its foreign policy towards China today is essentially a trade policy, as it is dominated by the treasury department and George Osborne.

Canadians may want better trade with China. But they see no reasons to bend over backwards to accommodate the more thorny issues like the Brits do. Trudeau’s honeymoon period is almost over, so he is especially sensitive to public opinion at this time.

Now, his office has filed a complaint with Beijing about Wang’s outburst. Trudeau’s aides most likely leaked the unflattering story, splashed by The Globe and Mail this week, that Wang’s ministry demanded the one-on-one meeting with Trudeau, which many diplomats consider a breach of protocol.

So a minor spat with a reporter has needlessly turned into a diplomatic incident.