Days after China's Foreign Minister berated a Canadian reporter for questioning his country's troubled human-rights record, an Ontario Crown minister defended it.
Michael Chan, the province's minister of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade, weighed in on the flap Monday, arguing in a Chinese-language column that the authoritarian country should also be seen through the perspective of "basic livelihood."
"The inner meaning of human rights is very broad, but the right to survival and a basic livelihood are important components of human rights," he tells an unidentified journalist for a blog on the popular Chinese-language website 51.ca and Mr. Chan's official WeChat page.
The blog begins with the mention of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's controversial press conference in Ottawa last week with his Canadian counterpart, Stéphane Dion. "[Mr. Wang] touched on the issue of human rights and his response led to commentary from all quarters," a scribe writes. "A journalist interviewed Michael Chan about this, inviting him to share his views on the matter."
Rather than asking the same questions about where human rights are now, Mr. Chan suggests it is better to examine how they've evolved in the past 40 years. "Chinese society has transformed from being about survival to being about development – and in the areas of economy, education, health care, student exchange, migration, travel and quality of life, these 40 years have brought about 1001 changes."
On June 1, Mr. Wang dressed down an iPolitics reporter for asking a question agreed to by a pool of journalists about human rights and Kevin Garratt – a missionary jailed for almost two years on charges of espionage. "Your question is full of prejudice against China and arrogant," Mr. Wang said. "This is totally unacceptable."
Kevin Li, editor-in-chief of 51.ca, said that one of Mr. Chan's staffers sent his team a link and copy of the reaction piece. Occasionally, Mr. Li said, his site run columns distributed by Mr. Chan's staff.
In the column, the Markham-Unionville MPP cited several key improvements in everyday Chinese life as metrics of achievement, each punctuated by an underlined conclusion: booming economic growth ("The welfare of the people has been enriched"), ease of tourism ("People's lives have become more interesting") and the wider latitude for Chinese students to study abroad ("People are living with freedom").
"The starting point for human rights is different for every country and people," Mr. Chan concludes. "Maintain a stance of openness, goodwill, and a mind on development, and the future will be bright."
Conservative MP Jason Kenney, who recalled circulating at many of the same Greater Toronto Area functions as Mr. Chan as federal multiculturalism minister, didn't sound surprised by Mr. Chan's take on events.
"I get the impression that he sometimes regards himself as an unofficial ambassador for the People's Republic of China," Mr. Kenney said. "I don't think I have ever heard Michael Chan assert Canada's interests as against Chinese policy and I've never heard him assert Canadian principles with respect to human rights as it relates to the PRC. So I think that undermines the Canadian position, which should be a balanced one."
Mr. Kenney also said that he once witnessed Mr. Chan speaking at a Chinese community event, where he ended his remarks by pumping his fist in the air and shouting what someone translated to him as "Long Live the Motherland" in Mandarin. "And I don't think he was referring to Canada," he added.
Jack Jia, publisher of the Chinese News Group, said that the article doesn't reflect Canadian values. "[Mr. Chan] doesn't look at how China paid for today's development."
Last June, Mr. Chan was the subject of a Globe and Mail investigation, which revealed that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was concerned the minister had grown too close to the Chinese consulate in Toronto, prompting a senior official to formally caution the province about the minister's alleged conduct in a 2010 briefing.
The Globe stories also examined Mr. Chan's performance in various ministerial portfolios, which included lobbying for the controversial Confucius Institute to come to Toronto's school board, a deal eventually scuppered amid concerns of Chinese government interference with the educational program. His hiring of two staffers known for pro-regime activities was also referenced.
Premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne have dismissed the CSIS concerns as baseless. Mr. Chan has said that The Globe's reporting on him is "a blend of innuendo and half-suggestions."
Mr. Chan is suing The Globe for defamation and has asked that queries go through a lawyer. His ministry spokesman and lawyer declined response. The Premier's office did not respond to questions.
The minister has held court on Chinese affairs before. On another Chinese-language website last year, for example, the minister praised China's anti-corruption campaign, which some critics view as a way for the leadership to purge its enemies.
"There are some overseas media who deliberately report negatively on China, lacking an attitude of comprehensively looking at events," another unidentified interviewer said in a blog before going on to paraphrase the minister. "[Mr. Chan] also hopes that the media will report supportively when people who do bad things and break the law are brought to justice, give society more positive energy … Opposing corruption is important, but 'opposing negativity' is also important."
David Mulroney, former Canadian ambassador to China, cautioned against Canadian elected officials communicating with constituents solely and exclusively in a foreign language. "Apart from the fact that it renders their views on key issues inaccessible to the vast majority, it encourages foreign governments to do the same thing," Mr. Mulroney writes in an e-mail. "It essentially rolls out the welcome mat for political interference by foreign states."