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Friday, June 25, 2010

Harper helps Hu keep critics away, bars NTDTV and Epoch Times

Toronto Star: OTTAWA— Chinese President Hu Jintao was kept well-insulated from controversy during his visit to Ottawa on Thursday, thanks in part to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office, which went to some lengths to keep Hu away from media outlets that have been critical of the Chinese government.

The PMO, reportedly bowing to terms laid out by the Chinese consulate in recent weeks, organized

Hu’s visit around specific demands to keep two media outlets away from the proceedings — New Tang Dynasty TV and the Epoch Times, according to sources.

In the four public appearances in Ottawa on Thursday between Harper and Hu, media contact was kept to an absolute minimum, with no press conference, as is standard procedure when foreign leaders visit Parliament.

The extraordinary measures helped Harper and Hu avoid making any comments on controversy still raging this week over whether the Chinese are involved in espionage with elected Canadian officials, as CSIS director Richard Fadden alleged in a television interview this week.

And the blend of Canadian-Chinese media management in the capital also heightened the already tense climate surrounding security overall in Canada, as the G8 and G20 summits get ready to unfold over coming days in Huntsville and Toronto.

Neither Harper’s spokesperson, Dimitri Soudas, nor Chinese officials, replied to questions about the extra-tight media controls around Hu on Thursday.

But the PMO, through negotiations with senior press-gallery sources over the past few weeks, made it clear that they were organizing events to keep NTDTV and the Epoch Times at some distance from the Chinese president, as their guests were demanding. Both media outlets are accredited members of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery, with all the same access rights as the Star, the CBC, CTV or any other media outlets.

Joe Wang, president of NTDTV’s Canadian bureau, confirmed that his reporters were not allowed to film or be present at Hu’s public appearances on Thursday.

And Carrie Hung, spokesperson for NTDTV internationally, said this is not unusual.

“NTD is probably the only independent Chinese language media that reports like a western media,” Hung said in an email. “The current Chinese communist regime has been known for being a free-press suppressor. Similar incidents like this have happened to us in the past as well, where our applications to UN events have been denied as long as there are Chinese leaders there.”

Spokespersons for the Epoch Times were not available on Thursday, but the newspaper has been publishing some hard-hitting stories in advance of Hu’s visit, including a report on how the Chinese embassy in Ottawa was orchestrating demonstrations in support of the president while he was here.

The Epoch Times reported it had obtained a recording of a speech given last week by Liu Shaohua, the first secretary of the education section at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, while speaking to a crowd of about 40-50 students receiving Chinese state-scholarships to study in Canada.

In the Epoch Times story, Liu is quoted as saying the embassy is covering the cost of hotel, travel and food for what was estimated to be 3,000 people who were expected to welcome Hu.

“This time, for you, all the expenses will all be paid by us,” Liu is quoted as saying in the report. “You do not talk about it outside. Do not talk about it to anyone, except to people in this circle.”

In that same recording, the Epoch Times goes on to report: “Liu says when Hu visited in 2005 and was met with protesters, officials in China were furious. He complained that during that visit, Canadian authorities did not co-operate with Chinese demands regarding the protesters, but this time he says there were some limited guarantees.”

Those “limited guarantees” appeared to extend to Thursday’s tight controls on Parliament Hill. Protesters, mainly supporters of the banned Falun Gong movement in China, occupied one side of the lawn in front of Centre Block, while Chinese-government supporters were on the other side, sporting red T-shirts emblazoned with the Canadian and Chinese flags.

Several Chinese-Canadian student websites, such as the ones at Concordia and Ottawa University, have also contained notices in recent days, with offers of Chinese government support for people interested in coming out to support Hu at pro-China demonstrations this week.

In their brief appearances before the cameras yesterday, Hu and Harper put the best face on Chinese-Canadian relations, which have started to really improve in the past year only after Harper paid his first visit to the country after four years in office.

Harper said his discussions with Hu have “just begun” this week.

“We have many matters to discuss across a range of issues,” Harper said. “Some of those are strictly bilateral matters, of course, but I know we will also be exchanging views in advance of the very important G20 summit we have coming up in a couple of days.”

Hu said through an interpreter that the China-Canada relationship “had come a long way” and noted the importance of “mutual trust.”

“There have been very close exchanges between the leaders of our two countries and people at various other levels. The policy of mutual trust has continued to be passed between our two countries. In addition, our two countries have also enjoyed very fruitful cooperation in such fields as trade, energy, resources, science, technology, culture, health, environmental protection and tourism.”

Earlier in the day, Hu was officially welcomed by Governor General Michaëlle Jean, who is headed to China later this month.

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