CanWest News Service; Vancouver SunPublished: Thursday, February 22, 2007
OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's "morally-righteous" criticism of China makes it less likely, not more, that Beijing will agree to release political prisoners such as Huseyin Celil, Liberal Senator Jack Austin said Wednesday in an interview marking his retirement from the Senate.
Austin, who has advocated closer Canada-China ties throughout his business and political career, said the government's focus on human rights will backfire for both political prisoners and Canadian businesses.
"It makes it even more difficult," said Austin, who hits the Senate's mandatory-retirement age of 75 on March 2. "How can they let him (Celil) go when it would say to the world, 'Oh, anybody who bashes us on moral high ground will get results from us?'"
Austin said the same dynamic makes it unlikely China will give Canada Approved Destination Status, which would allow Canada to tap into the potentially huge market of middle-class Chinese travelling overseas. Canada is one of the few countries in the world without ADS.
An agreement to improve protection of investor rights for Canadian firms operating in China is also at stake, he said.
Harper and his ministers have regularly blasted China's dismal human rights record, citing in particular the Celil case. The prime minister has said his government won't stop speaking out for the sake of the "almighty dollar."
The Chinese last year jailed the Canadian activist, who was born and raised in China and is a member of the Uyghur minority group, alleging he has terrorist links.
China does not recognize his Canadian citizenship.
A call and e-mail to Harper's office wasn't returned.