Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is set to fly off to China next week; his first official visit there since being elected into that position almost four years ago. As much as Harper had appeared to have resisted the journey, the mission seemed to be inevitable, especially with the present economic situation.
As unsurprising as this visit was, Harper had provided me with some hope that maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t follow suit with all the other countries who are slowly beginning the process of kowtowing to China.
The last time I met Stephen Harper was at a dinner party in his backyard at 24 Sussex three summers ago. When I told him I was Tibetan and was involved in the Tibetan freedom struggle, he told me ours was a good cause that he supported and that I should keep on fighting.
However, my first encounter with Harper and his stance on Tibet was during my second year of university, in September 2005. Hu Jintao was in Ottawa, so two other SFTers and I went to protest outside Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General, where she was hosting a glamorous dinner event for the Chinese President and the who’s who of Chinese and Canadian business and politics. Although there was a horde of other protestors there who were being closely and strictly monitored by the RCMP, this one black town car with tinted windows pulled up right in front of us 5 Tibetan protestors with Tibetan flags in hand (we met 2 other supporters there).
I had no idea who was in the car, and wondered why, out of all the groups there, they had stopped in front of us. Were they intentionally trying to block us from the motorcade view? Were we in trouble? The wait to see who was in the car felt like forever, and when they finally stepped out of the car, I was shocked to see it was Stephen Harper, who at the time, was not yet Prime Minister, but running for election. He came right up to us and exclaimed “Ahhh, the Tibetans!” and shook all our hands. He stood and spoke with us for a few moments and before leaving promised, “Please know I won’t forget about you in there,” pointing to Rideau Hall.
A year later, in November 2006, following being “snubbed” by Hu Jintao who announced that he would not officially meet with Prime Minister Harper at the APEC summit in Vietnam (believed by some to be because of Harper’s tough position on China), Harper had stated that he wouldn’t play down concerns of human rights and “sell out to the almighty dollar,” publicly acknowledging China’s horrendous track record of human rights abuses. And in October 2007, Harper met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his Parliament Hill office, against warnings from the Chinese government. There was even a Tibetan flag in the background, a bold move considering the Chinese government considers His Holiness a “separatist”.
And probably one of the proudest moments for Tibetan-Canadians and Canadian Tibet supporters in recent years was when the Canadian Parliament unanimously awarded His Holiness with Honorary Canadian Citizenship in 2006; a recognition that had only been given twice before, to Raoul Wallenberg and Nelson Mandela. During this time frame, I thought, “Hey, maybe I CAN put my full trust in the Canadian government to stand up for Tibet and human rights against the oppressive Chinese communist government.”
However, recently, my wall of doubt has started to rebuild itself. This year, among other actions, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon visited China, hardly mentioning human rights, but instead, mentioning how excited Canada was to continue their historical and friendly relationship with China. While in August, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty led a high profile trade mission to China, joined by the heads of Canada’s banking industry. He was quoted as saying, “The Canadian financial sector is eager to partner with Chinese companies in their global transactions. China is one of Canada’s most important trading partners. We share a long and proud history and we are working toward a future that will be beneficial to both countries.”
And to complete the “thawing” of the “icy” relationship between Canada and China, Harper will visit China December 2nd-6th. It should be interesting to see what Harper does while in China, especially after the visits this year by the two Ministers, as well as US President Barack Obama’s trip earlier this month, where China was given only a little spank in regards to China’s human rights abuses in Tibet.
All I can say is that I sincerely hope that Harper keeps his promise he made to us four years ago outside Rideau Hall and doesn’t forget about Tibet.
To take action and write to Harper to urge him to speak out for Tibet during his trip to China, please click here!