BUCHAREST–Canada still plans to send a "high-level" government official to the opening ceremonies of this summer's Beijing Olympics, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says.
Harper said yesterday his cabinet has not discussed whether Canada should deliver an official rebuke over China's violent crackdown on protesters in Tibet. He said he never planned to go to Beijing himself for the ceremonies "but we are still planning to have high-level government representation."
Polish and German leaders and Britain's Prince Charles have said they will not attend the opening ceremonies while Hollywood director Steven Spielberg pulled out of the organization of the ceremony some time ago. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also mused about missing the event.
"My advice – and I know the government of China is not typically taking my advice – my strong advice would be to take these concerns seriously because I think they are likely to grow rather than diminish if we see a repetition of the current pattern," Harper said.
According to Tibetan exiles, more than 100 people have been killed in the military crackdown in Lhasa, the capital, including Buddhist monks and activists who want an end to the Chinese annexation of Tibet. Chinese officials have put the death toll at 22.
Protesters have disrupted the Olympic torch runs in Greece and other countries as it makes its way to Beijing for the summer games. A number of socially conscious athletes are also considering how to express their disagreement with China's Tibet policy while still participating in the contest.
"I would urge China ... to respect human rights and peaceful protests, not just in Tibet but everywhere," Harper said. "I would also encourage the government of China to understand that its growing wealth, its growing importance in the world, and of course the profile of the Olympics will put a greater and greater spotlight on its record in this regard."
Harper made headlines in 2006 for taking a firm line on China's human rights record, saying he would not "sell out" basic democratic principles for fear of hampering trade ties with the economic giant.
Canada's highest profile beef with Beijing is the detention of Huseyin Celil, an ethnic Uighur with Canadian citizenship, on charges of terrorism. He was arrested in Uzbekistan in 2006 and deported to China, where the government refuses to recognize his dual citizenship.