The Chinese Puzzle

Criticism of China makes for strange bedfellows, bringing together voices from all parts of the political spectrum, each with their own particular axe to grind: human rights abuses, Tibetan independence, lack of religious freedom, the harmful impacts of China’s booming industrial economy on the environment, or the deleterious effects of globalization on domestic producers, to name some of the more prominent ones. Everyone seems to have at least one issue that concerns them in which China, home to roughly a quarter of the world’s population, plays a role — usually that of the villain, it has to be said.

With this in mind, it seems that the question then is twofold: what’s the foreign policy of Canada with respect to China relative to the aforementioned issues (many of which, it should be noted are contradictory and mutually exclusive); and what’s the most effective way for Canada to exert whatever influence it may have to help advance those policy objectives?

The first part of the question is too complex to address here, although it can be said that on human rights, for example, according to organizations such as Human Rights Watch, like previous Liberal governments, the Conservatives have been long on rhetoric, but short on action. Probably to the chagrin of such groups, as newish Foreign Affairs Minister, David Emerson actually struck a softer, more conciliatory tone the other week stating that human rights activists and others impatient for change should be more mindful of the progress China has made in lifting millions of people out of poverty. So much for any pretense of the government taking a hard line with China on human rights.

In terms of the environment, Harper has adopted a somewhat antagonistic stance that demands emerging countries like China make the same kind of sacrifices as rich nations before signing on to any meaningful climate change initiative — a position that critics charge unfairly scapegoats China while providing Canada with a convenient excuse to continue doing nothing in terms of emissions reduction.

As for the second part, despite what Jason Kenney says to the contrary, the Harper government has been decidedly stand-offish towards the Communist government without clearly stating what it hopes to accomplish by this route. If whatever the Chinese equivalent of “Kremlin-watching” by CanWest News is to be believed, it seems that the appearance of Chrétien’s criticisms on the front page of the state media’s English-language newspaper should be taken as a “sign that the Chinese government is indeed miffed over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to skip the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Games.”

So should we care? Some people certainly don’t, such as Raphael at Unambiguously Ambidextrous when he writes: “As far as I’m concerned, I’m not even interested in trading with China. Damn the consequences, until they make reforms and bring their human rights record up to snuff.” I’m not sure how representative that is, but I’ve heard similarly hostile sentiments echoed by others. It seems like a rather asinine position to take, if you ask me; one that’s completely unrealistic and counterproductive. I doubt that it’s a position shared by the government, but maybe there’s more than a faint whiff of it in the Prime Minister’s approach.

Personally, I’m considerably more sanguine about China overall than that and prefer instead to look more at the positive side of changes that have taken place in China over the last 30 years. Of course there’s enormous room for improvement on a wide range of issues, but I believe our view of things really needs to be considered within the context of the truly enormous challenges that country is coming to terms with as it undergoes an unprecedented transformation on a scale that in almost every respect is difficult to imagine, let alone fully comprehend.

Not His Brother’s Keeper

Well, half-brother, in this case — more specifically, of Barack Obama, who the Italian edition of Vanity Fair has apparently discovered living in a shanty town outside of Nairobi, Kenya on less than a dollar a month.

George Hussein Onyango Obama, who slept in the street for a decade and now resorts to petty thieving to sustain himself, says that he doesn’t mention his famous half-brother (born of the same father) in conversation because he’s embarrassed by his own impoverished circumstances. “If anyone says something about my surname, I say we are not related. I am ashamed,” he told the magazine.

It seems natural to shrug this off as just a curious footnote to the presidential campaign, but there may be more here than meets the eye. As Jazz at Moderate Voice puts it, “if you found out that an elected official, running for high office and the multi-million dollar recipient of book deals, etc. was keeping his mother in a cut-rate old folks home eating Alpo, you might not think very highly of him. Having a brother living in such conditions is certainly not much better.” A fair enough point, I’d say.

Should be interesting to see if this story about Obama’s not-so-long-lost brother gains any traction with the usual suspects.

Update: And there’s another half-brother in Nairobi: Muslim Obama. Really.

Petrofish: It’s What’s for Dinner!

Mound of Sound discovers an amazing new “first” at Fort Chipewyan: “Petrofish” a new type of Goldeye — with two mouths!

“Oh, hello, friends. I’m Ed Stelmach, Premier of Alberta, and I’m here to talk to you about my little friend here, Petro. Many of you consider it to be a hideous genetic mutation. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s ask an actor portraying Charles Darwin what he thinks…”

Petrofish… a miracle of nature, with a taste that can’t be beat. Mmm-mm!

Harper’s China Syndrome

It’s hard to make sense of Stephen Harper’s apparent diffidence about relations with China that have come under increasing criticism from some quarters since his decision not to attend the Beijing Olympics. The other day, former PM Jean Chrétien weighed into the matter in a rather unseemly way, excoriating Harper for allowing the country’s relations with China to deteriorate to the point where Canada is now “at the bottom of the ladder in terms of having any influence with China” and “bottom of the list of countries China wants to do business with.” Those assertions were dubious at best and, as they say in diplomatic circles, most unhelpful.

Hitting back at Chrétien’s remarks, the Conservatives responded by quite rightly calling the former PM “a bit hypocritical” and pointing out the rather inconvenient fact that the vote making the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen was unanimous, so Chrétien is effectively indicting Stéphane Dion and all the Liberal MPs as well. I think that fact alone points out how questionable Chrétien’s attack was. The Conservatives have also rightly pointed out that various cabinet ministers have visited China fourteen times since coming to office.

They should have left it at that. But no… As the Harper Conservatives are unfortunately prone to do, they felt compelled to get nasty and personal. In an effort to discredit Chrétien and impugn his motives, Muliculturalism Minister Jason Kenney claimed yesterday that while in office, the former PM “was calculating his retirement income in his relations in this area” and asserted that “Chrétien and the Liberals have always pursued a policy in this area calculated to their own personal financial interests and those of rich and powerful friends.” Those are pretty sleazy accusations, not to mention being completely without foundation or demonstrable basis in fact.

As for Harper’s seemingly lukewarm attitude towards China, his personal ambivalence hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed and may well have something to do with bilateral relations being at their lowest point since 1970, as was stated by Prof. Wenran Jiang of the China Institute at the University of Alberta when he appeared on CTV’s Question Period the other week, who also noted that, unlike all of the other G8 countries (with or without similar views on a range of controversial issues), Canada has failed to seriously engage China over the last two and a half years.

More on this later…

Nothing to See Here

Warren talks to his unedifying fish “Bart” about the pros and cons of a possible fall election for the Conservatives and Liberals.

Pretty much what you’d expect from a creature that futilely swims around in the same circles day after day.


In case you missed Bill Maher on Larry King Live last night promoting his upcoming “mockumentary” Religulous, here’s an excerpt from the show.

And here’s the trailer for the film (directed by Larry Charles of “Borat” fame) that’s due to be released on the first week of October.

The distributor, Lionsgate, has set up a satirical companion website to the film called which is a parody of the “largest spiritual web site”

From the new site, this is what Jesus had to say about Velociraptors:

Dinosaurs were the first creatures kicked out of the Garden of Eden when a T-Rex ate Adam’s first wife Lilith whole. Later, God sent a great flood which wiped out all the large repto-birds in a sort of Dino-holocaust. But when Jesus came to earth his blood cleansed all that God had cursed. That meant dinosaurs could finally get through the gates to Jurassic Heaven and into the loving arms of the Lord. Less fortunate however were the unicorns as gays are still not allowed beyond the pearly gates.

Readers are then invited to follow the rabbit trail