Late last week at a Liberal Party fundraiser in Toronto that was aimed at women, Justin Trudeau was asked which country’s government he admired the most outside of Canada. Without hesitation, Trudeau mentioned China:
There is a level of admiration I actually have for China because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy around on a dime and say we need to go green, we need to start, you know, investing in solar. There is a flexibility that I know Stephen Harper must dream about: having a dictatorship where you can do whatever you wanted, that I find quite interesting.
Trudeau then added, “But Sun News can now report that I prefer China.” Sun News is considered Canada’s equivalent to the Fox News Channel.
Now I’m not totally surprised Trudeau would have mentioned China. After all, his father, Pierre Trudeau established diplomatic relations with China nearly a full decade before the United States did. But given China’s human rights record, the younger Trudeau has been in damage control ever since.
But now the CBC has come to the rescue. Terry Milewski, the CBC’s senior correspondent has written an article arguing that Prime Minister Harper has also praised China. Milewski cited a speech Harper made to the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce during a 2009 state visit. Harper said of China’s economic prosperity:
In the last three decades, since making the first tentative moves toward liberalization, China has been witness to the greatest surge in general prosperity in the history of mankind. More than 400 million people have been lifted out of poverty.
Although Milewski provides a link to a news account of Harper’s speech, he does not mention what Harper said about human rights in China:
Our government believes and has always believed that a mutually beneficial economic relationship is not incompatible with a good and frank dialogue on fundamental values like freedom, human rights and the rule of law.
And so, in relations between China and Canada, we will continue to raise issues of freedom and human rights, be a vocal advocate and an effective partner for human rights reform, just as we pursue the mutually beneficial economic relationship desired by both our countries.
The cold fact is that Canada needs China. Even more so because of the Obama Administration’s refusal to approve the Keystone Pipeline. So Harper, like any head of government, has to strike a very fine balance. Harper’s remarks on human rights in China aren’t radical, but it’s better than what Trudeau had to say the other night.
Harper might have to be diplomatic in his approach to China, but I think if Harper were asked which foreign country’s government he admired the most I do not think China would have crossed his lips.