By Jason Loftus
Epoch Times Toronto Staff
|Apr 10, 2008|
TORONTO—A series of planned trips to China by elected officials in Canada has prompted concern over what message our country is sending the Chinese regime as reports of human rights abuses continue to pour out of that country in the lead up to the Beijing Olympic Games.
On Monday, Ontario Economic Development Minister Sandra Pupatello revealed that she would be leaving this weekend for Beijing and Shanghai, to provide an official opening for a trade office there.
Toronto Mayor David Miller is also due to depart for China this weekend on a 10-day trip that will include a visit to Toronto's "sister city" Chongqing as well as stops in both Beijing and Shanghai to drum up business.
A spokesperson for the mayor told The Epoch Times last week that Mr. Miller, who has met the Dalai Lama, is likely to be joined on the trip by businessman Ping Tan, a prominent Dalai Lama critic and supporter of the Chinese regime's recent crackdown in Tibet.
Also this week, Ottawa Deputy-Mayor Glenn Brooks came under fire for accepting an expenses-paid trip to Beijing, a sister city to Ottawa. Mr. Brooks and City Clerk Pierre Pagé are already in China and will return April 15.
This comes as reports of police violence in Tibetan regions continue to surface, and last week Amnesty International reported the Chinese authorities have increased the repression of groups like Falun Gong in the lead up to the Olympics.
In response to criticism over the timing of their China trips, each of the Canadian officials visiting China has argued that the trips will help encourage trade, which will benefit Canada. They also argue that engagement should not cease because of the crisis in Tibet.
"We would hope that the mayor's presence is not used for anything other than for what its intention is, and that is to develop city-to-city relationships," Mr. Miller's spokesperson, Stuart Green, told The Epoch Times last week.
"The mayor's record on and position and feelings on human rights are unquestionable."
But the communist brass in Beijing may well have a different goal in mind.
Though continually calling to make the Olympics "a respite from politics," Beijing is making every effort to have the lead-up to the Games send a message of economic and political vitality.
Beijing's is the largest and most ambitious Olympic Torch Relay in history. The regime has also made fanfare over heads of state it has courted to attend the Olympic ceremonies in August.
So as the recent turmoil in Tibet has made the torch's "Journey of Harmony" instead a lightening rod for criticism of the regime's abuses, Beijing has been anxious to re-write the script.
Even the debacle of the Torch's jaunt through Paris—the torch was forced onto a bus five times by protesters who tried to extinguish it—was described in glowing terms on China Central Television, the main state-run broadcaster.
In a CCTV interview, the Chinese Ambassador to France described seeing "an overwhelming response from the French audience."
"[They were] yelling loudly, 'Go Beijing Olympics,'" he said, adding that he was "so moved by the friendly expression of those people."
Chinese press have also made sure to trumpet support for the regime's stance on Tibet from foreign governments, such as recent comments from officials in Morocco and Sierra Leone.
Which raises the question of how the Canadian officials' visits to China will be presented in Chinese press.
Opposition critics have already made up their minds.
"Pupatello will be used as a dupe by the Communist government," Ontario New Democrat MPP Peter Kormos was quoted as saying Tuesday.
"She will be used to legitimize the Chinese oppression of Tibet and the murder of Tibetans."
With the stakes high, the Chinese regime is counting on friends like Ping Tan and the organization he heads, the National Congress of Chinese Canadians, to help varnish its image abroad.
Tan is a loyal supporter of communist party policy, having organized events extolling the party line on the persecution of Falun Gong and the regime's handling of Tibet. When students were mowed over by tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989, Tan backed the regime, according to a report in the Globe and Mail newspaper.
Recently, Tan has been busy.
Between March 3 and 13, Tan was one of two Canadian representatives at a conference in Beijing organized for the communist party's closest overseas friends.
The conference bills itself as part of the China's "United Front Work," which is at the heart of the regime's intelligence operations, according to a document on the website of Canada's spy agency, CSIS.
The United Front Work Department seeks to win the support of non-party "friends" and isolate and destroy "enemies," the document says.
On March 18, not a week after the conference and four days after police opened fire on protesters in Tibet, Tan's NCCC sent letters to Canadian members of parliament, inviting them to China for a "Real China in Perspective Tour."
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Epoch Times, says the trip seeks to undo damage to the Canada-China relationship caused by "misleading, biased, and often untruthful information about China."
Two days later, Tan was alongside Mayor Miller at a press conference announcing the upcoming trip to China.
Five days later, Tan was in the papers again when the NCCC issued a statement, sent to media from Tan's law office, condemning Tibetans for the unrest in Lhasa and praising the Chinese government's response.
The mayor's spokesperson, Mr. Green, said Mr. Miller was unaware of the statement from Tan's group. But he also said Tan had an important role in building the ties that underpinned the trip.
"He was very instrumental in creating this sister city relationship between Chongqing and Toronto," Mr. Green said.