Sunday, February 18, 2007

With China, quiet diplomacy's a better bet

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

An apparent misunderstanding clouds how Canadians view dustups over human rights. We seem to think that because a person holds a Canadian passport, he or she should automatically be accorded the full protection of the Canadian government, including consular access. Nothing could be further from reality in countries that do not recognize dual citizenship, such as Iran and Syria. If someone there is a dual national, the Canadian citizenship doesn't count.

China is a different story. In 1997, Canada and China signed an agreement whereby, if a dual citizen entered China on a Canadian passport, China agreed he or she would be considered a Canadian.

Confusion over Canada's ability and right to intervene on behalf of dual nationals is apparently not known by at least some of the dual nationals themselves, despite lots of information on government websites and documents. Some people seem unaware of their precarious legal status when travelling to their country of origin, expecting, if they get in trouble, that the Canadian government can, and will, come to their aid.

These days, attention is focused on the case of Huseyin Celil, who emigrated to Canada from China. On a trip to Uzbekistan, he was arrested and shipped to China. He has been held at an undisclosed location for about eight months.

If he entered China on his Canadian passport, he ought to have been afforded Canadian consular access. Chances are, however, the Chinese grabbed him, disregarded his Canadian passport, claimed him to be Chinese, and are telling Canada to butt out.

As part of their campaign of lecturing and hectoring the Chinese, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other ministers have been pressing the Celil case, demanding Canadian consular access.

From China's perspective, Mr. Celil isn't a Canadian. This observation does not defend the Chinese treatment of Mr. Celil, but it does explain some of the evident confusion. The Chinese consider it a bit rich being lectured to by Canada, a convenient place for refugees from Chinese justice to land and remain.

Lai Changxing fled China in 1999 as the alleged mastermind of a multi-billion dollar smuggling ring. He's not the first alleged crook from China and other countries to land in Canada and demand refugee status. Given our creaky refugee system, he certainly won't be the last.

Immigration Canada finally got a deportation order for Mr. Lai in June of 2006. A ticket was purchased for his return to China. At the last second, Madam Justice Carolyn Layden-Stevenson of the Federal Court stayed the deportation because Mr. Lai might be executed or face torture in China. More legal reviews are unfolding. The Chinese, reasonably enough, are peeved.

Mr. Lai's is not the only example of people wanted in China fleeing to Canada. A pair of Bank of China employees reached Vancouver in 2001 after allegedly stealing $57-million from a branch in south China. They have not been returned.

Beijing has formally asked Ottawa to arrest and deport a fugitive bank manager, Gao Shan, who is accused of embezzling $150-million from customers. No response.

Corruption is endemic in China. Western countries and businesses bemoan shady dealings, shakedowns, copyright violations, lack of property rights and payoffs. Yet, when China does go after someone for corruption, and that someone flees to Canada for safety, we don't act expeditiously to help. Instead, we lecture the Chinese about their human-rights record.

People in custody here are not tortured, as they sometimes are in China. Legal protections exist in Canada that eclipse anything in China. But from China's perspective, we lecture it about how it handles cases but we slough off its complaints about its nationals taking refuge in Canada.

The Harper government is very keen on finger-wagging at the Chinese. The chief finger-wagger is a junior minister, Jason Kenney, who used to be Mr. Harper's parliamentary secretary and saw him every day. His job in Cabinet is to win ethnic votes for the Conservatives.

Maybe the Harperites think finger-wagging is good domestic politics and a clever way to run foreign policy. It would help the credibility of this finger-wagging if Canada handled cases of concern to the Chinese with a little more dispatch.

It's also likely, although counterintuitive to neophytes in foreign policy, that quiet persistence wins human-rights cases more often than megaphone

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