Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy announced on Monday that Canada was withdrawing its co-sponsorship of a resolution to the United Nations Human Rights Commission condemning human rights abuses in China.
Every year since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the European Union has sponsored the resolution and every year until now, Canada has been a co-sponsor. Canada has made the change despite heavy lobbying from the British government and from the United States, where President Bill Clinton raised the issue with Prime Minister Jean Chretien during the Prime Minister's visit to Washington last week.
Mr Axworthy said Canada remains concerned about human rights in China but "under the circumstances, we concluded that Canada could have a greater influence on the state of human rights in China by pursuing and intensifying our pro- mising bilateral measures."
The minister also said the resolution doesn't have the clout it once had because several of the other traditional sponsors, including France (which has just concluded a major deal to sell Airbus aircraft to China), have also backed away. Other countries to have withdrawn sponsorship include Italy, Greece, Germany, Spain and Australia. The fracturing of the earlier consensus is seen as a major success for Chinese diplomacy.
Although Mr Axworthy was stuck with defending the Canadian switch, he opposed it strongly in Cabinet and the ensuing row was so serious that details of the secret proceedings leaked out last week.
Prime Minister Chretien was the principal proponent of the softer line on China, a view which appears directly related to the efforts both the Canadian Government and Canadian businesses have been making to capitalise on rapidly expanding commercial opportunites in China.
Ever the pragmatist, Mr Chretien has often indicated his scepticism about how much influence a small country like Canada can have on China. Mr Axworthy, backed by the Foreign Affairs Department has been emphasizing the importance of keeping up the moral pressure, continuing a strong tradition of robustly moral Canadian diplomacy.
But Mr Chretien has also led two trade missions to China in the three- and-a-half years since he took power. One major success was the sale of two nuclear electrical generating stations to China with the prospect of several more. The Canadians are convinced the Chinese sales will reassert the Canadian CANDU system, which uses natural rather than enriched uranium to generate steam, as a superior nuclear system which does not run the risks of the Chernobyl or Three Mile Island types of meltdown.
Canadian engineering firms are involved in the design and construction of the huge Three Gorges dam, and Canadian exports in many fields have expanded. Canada also quietly hosted Lieutenant-General Qian Shugen, the deputy chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, and five other senior officers recently.Reuse content