Charles Burton is an associate professor of political science at Brock University, and a former counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing.
In Ottawa on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi lashed out angrily at a reporter's question that mirrored Canadians' concerns about human rights and China's seizing of disputed regions of the South China Sea. His fiery response revealed the difficulty Chinese diplomats have in convincingly representing their government's position.
The journalist specifically asked about China's detention of a Canadian missionary on charges of espionage. Of course, the minister knows as well as any of us that there is no evidence that Kevin Garratt was a military spy for Canada as alleged, and that China's jailing of him since 2014 without due process is a flagrant violation of international law. Mr. Wang could have sidestepped the question and offered something in line with what Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister, Stéphane Dion, had said moments earlier – that the Garratt matter should be resolved through diplomatic protocols to which both Canada and China are signatory.
But Chinese diplomats are well practised in parrying diplomatic démarches about human-rights matters, and equipped with detailed talking points. When pressed too hard, they are programmed to bang the negotiating table and storm out in feigned high dudgeon.
The fact is, the discourse spouted by China's Communist regime is severely at odds with the perceptive, informed social values of modern Chinese citizens.
The credibility vacuum can be seen in the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping publicly blames every sort of ill on "bourgeois Western ideology," with its democracy and freedom of expression, but privately sends his daughter to university in the United States.
Mr. Wang must be similarly conflicted. It is much easier to be a diplomat for Canada than a diplomat for China. He would probably feel more comfortable on the other side of the table representing the Canadian position than his own. It must all be very stressful for Mr. Wang and his colleagues.