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Monday, June 11, 2007

China wanted cash to discuss human rights

BEIJING — Chinese diplomats offered to allow Canada to discuss sensitive human-rights issues if Canada paid for "goodwill gestures" such as foreign scholarships and sabbaticals for Chinese bureaucrats, a researcher says.

The Chinese diplomats suggested they could give Canada more influence over the agenda of its annual human-rights dialogue with China if it agreed to pay for university scholarships and made a $60,000 cash donation to an impoverished district of southwestern China, the researcher says.

The revelation has angered Canadian rights activists, who say that China was bargaining for financial compensation in exchange for human rights.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry officials made the proposal at a meeting in September of 2005, with a Canadian embassy official in attendance, according to Charles Burton, a political scientist and former Canadian diplomat who was also at the meeting.

Mr. Burton briefly mentioned the incident in the public version of his government-commissioned report on the annual human-rights dialogue between Canada and China. But some details of the Chinese proposal were censored from the public version at the insistence of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs.

The dialogue, an annual meeting between Canadian and Chinese officials to discuss human rights, is being reviewed by a House of Commons committee because of concerns that the dialogue is an empty propaganda exercise.

The committee's final report is being delayed by disputes between MPs on the committee. In the meantime, the annual dialogue has been postponed, with the Conservative government saying that it wants reforms to make the dialogue more productive. No dialogue has been held since 2005.

One of the main concerns about the annual dialogue is that China refuses to allow any participation by Canadian groups that focus on Tibet, Taiwan, Muslim minorities, Falun Gong, or other sensitive issues.

At the meeting in 2005, during Mr. Burton's study of the dialogue, the Chinese diplomats said they could allow participation by these groups and more discussion of sensitive issues if Canada made "goodwill gestures" such as a $60,000 donation to an impoverished county in Yunnan province or Canadian-financed scholarships and sabbaticals at Canadian universities for Chinese officials, Mr. Burton said.

He said the Chinese diplomats made a "clear and explicit connection" between the request for Canadian financial aid and the offer of concessions on the agenda and participation in the dialogue.

Canadian rights group are outraged at the request. "This sort of bargaining with China, using international human-rights law as its currency, is completely unacceptable," said Carole Samdup, co-ordinator of the economic and social rights program at Rights & Democracy, a human-rights group based in Montreal.

"It is unreasonable for any government to expect compensation, financial or otherwise, for respecting human rights."

She noted that the dialogue was launched in 1997 in exchange for Canada's decision to refrain from supporting a resolution condemning China at the annual meeting of the United Nations human rights commission.

"Having won the UNHCR deal, China now appears to be negotiating for additional compensation just to hold up its end of the bargain," Ms. Samdup said.

Cheuk Kwan, chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, said the request for "goodwill gestures" is a way for China to take advantage of Western concerns about human rights by offering them up for discussion in return for donations and other favours.

"To me, this is despicable and unfair - unfair to their own people when their government is using their rights as chips on the bargaining table," Mr. Kwan said.

In his report last year, Mr. Burton concluded that the annual human-rights review is ineffective and plagued by "pervasive cynicism." Most of the dialogue is scripted in advance and supervised by Chinese bureaucrats who have no involvement in human-rights issues, he found.

Lu Shumin, Canada's ambassador to China, said that his government is willing to reopen the human-rights dialogue when Canada is ready.

"It's up to the Canadians to decide," he told reporters at the embassy in Ottawa. "The Chinese attitude is very open. ... There is no difficulty on our side to continue the dialogue."

Asked whether China would be willing to open the dialogue to Canadian NGOs like the Canada Tibet Committee, Mr. Lu declined to answer.

With a report from Alan Freeman in Ottawa

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