In 1989, I sat alone in front of the TV, watching the fight for democracy and freedom come to a head in China. Who could forget this iconic image of a single man standing before the tanks, facing likely death? What strength lives in a soul to find yourself taking such action ? For a young woman like myself, raised in the sheltering woods and relative isolation of the world beyond my hometown in northern British Columbia, pre-internet, and the CBC my only source of global information and news, the days and weeks of protests in and around Tiananmen Square were instrumental to my appreciation of true freedom and democracy.
Today, shocking news -or not, depending on how you look at it – comes to us from China. Li Wangyang, a Chinese dissident who had been jailed for more than 22 years for both his role in the 1989 protests, and later, for ‘inciting subversion’, was found dead. Released from prison a year ago, he was in hospital for treatment of heart disease and diabetes when he was found with a strip of cloth around his neck, tied to a window bar above. Since he was known for his strong spirit and mind,and was seen in fine form the evening before,it was clearly a surprise to his family and friends, who do not believe he could have killed himself.
From the BBC:
“The Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in China said Mr Li died “unusually”.
“We cannot rule out that security guards monitoring him tortured him to death and faked a suicide,” the centre said in a statement “
Li WangYang, 你終於可以去和平
The country whose government deems it necessary to imprison a poet for “subversion of state power” after he writes a poem that the court deemed was a serious crime that deserved severe punishment – from the National Post :
By Zhu Yufu, translated by A. E. Clark and reprinted with permission
It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
The Square belongs to everyone.
With your own two feet
It’s time to head to the Square and make your choice.
It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
A song belongs to everyone.
From your own throat
It’s time to voice the song in your heart.
It’s time, people of China! It’s time.
China belongs to everyone.
Of your own will
It’s time to choose what China shall be.”
Indeed, as Zhu Yufu urges his fellow Chinese sisters and brothers to find their song and sing it, I urge my fellow Canadians to find their songs and sing them too…for there is a growing concern among many in this country about the increasing foothold on Canada’s resources and corporations, leaving Canadians security and interests at risk.
While many urged Harper to condemn this harsh assault on human rights and free speech, he instead railed on environmentalists in his visit to China earlier this year, and ” his strongest words ever on human rights” really seemed to be nothing more than platitudes.
Certainly, the Chinese government would not consider having to address its horrific human rights record as a condition of doing business in, and with, Canada – and Stephen Harper seems just fine with that. He, who was once stand-offish when it came to cultivating Chinese business interest in Canada is now going as far as stating he will over-rule environmental and regulatory process to ensure the Northern Gateway project gets built. Chinese state connected corporations have been busy in Canada’s north and Harper has gone to extreme lengths to facilitate this surge.
Which leads me to ask, why is that? Why is the Canadian government seemingly so eager to get into a financial bed with the Chinese government and Chinese corporations, when so many have rung alarm bells at the risk of doing so, without adequate safeguards to Canadian interests?
To understand why, one has to look beyond the Prime Minister, and into corporate Canada, to two organizations that have been deemed the architects of Canada’s China policy for far longer than Harper has been Prime Minister : the aptly named Power Corporation and the Canada Chinese Business Council.
The Power Corporation of Canada, under the direction of Andre and Paul Desmarais, has long been referred to ( and written about) as being ’the’ power behind the upper echelon of Canadian politics, in particular the Privy Council and the Prime Ministers office.
In fact, the company has shared a long and lively history with several prime ministers of different political leanings, who have worked on staff, including Jean Chretien, Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney. Over many years, political and professional connections continued in addition to personal ones, with the marriage of Andre Desmarais to Jean Cretiens daughter, so entrenched are the families and business/politics.
( In an aside, last night I was reading a book by publisher Douglas Gibson, ‘Stories About Storytellers’ in which he remarks on the memoirs of both Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney, both of whom talk about their time with Power Corporation and the Desmarais family – a fascinating read)
But I digress. Time to take a look at the Canada China Business Council in more depth. Deemed a private, not for profit association, it’s sole purpose appears to be facilitating founding and member businesses in making as much money from trade and business with China as they possibly can, in the easiest and most unfettered manner. Read that as, free of trade and regulatory interference, if you wish.
Of note, is that in addition to Power Corporation, Export Development Canada and the Bank of Montreal, one of the founding members is CITIC, a state owned investment company of the Peoples Republic of China.
The board of directors of the China Canada Business Council is a veritable who’s who in Canadian politics and business, and boasts that ”Their cumulative corporate experience in China and their personal and business networks among China and Canada’s most senior government and business leaders is unparalleled. They speak with insight and authority on Canada-China trade and investment issues and their voices are heard.”
Indeed, the 2010/2011 board included the Desmarais, Stockwell Day and a former ambassador to China.
And Stephen Harper, it seems, has heard their voices loud and clear.
Although Desmarais had long connections with three prior Prime Ministers, through Power Corp, and other political/personal ties, there was no such long history between the Desmarais family and Harper before he came into power. In fact, some wondered how much influence, if any, could come to bear on the new PM because of that lack of history.
As I touched on in the first installment of Playing With the Dragon - courtesy of Terry Glavins excellent article - Harper has visibly taken an about-face with respect to trade with China, and Canada-China relations, seemingly at great odds with Canada’s national interests.
The question remained for many why this was, and what prompted that about-face with China, but perhaps to understand we need to look back to 2010… and the photo Harper didn’t want you to see.
In fact, the photos Norman Spector was referring to in that article, are no longer included with the Globe and Mail article. Instead, you will have to head over to the Canada Free Press to see what photo Mr. Spector was talking about… and why many think it explains so much about Harpers big flip-flop in attitude towards trade and business with China. From that article:
“Leave it to the Globe and Mail, “Canada’s national newspaper” to flag The Photo Harper doesn’t want you to seewithout giving details about the person that Harper purportedly doesn’t want you to see.
“At last night’s dinner in Ottawa in honour of President Hu, from left to right, Andre Desmarais, president and co-Chair of the Power Corporation Board of Directors…who has contributed greatly to the strengthening of China-Canada relations, Hu Jintao and the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper.” (The Globe and Mail, June 25, 2010).
The first colour photo released from last night’s dinner by the Prime Minister’s Office blocks out the person sitting to the right of Hu Jintao because of the angle the picture was taken from and the small Chinese flag on the table.
All it took to solve the mystery was a black and white photo from La Presse newspaper, revealing the person hidden by the flag to be none other than Andre Desmarais, Power Corp CEO and son-in-law of former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
Will heads be rolling today at La Presse? After all, it is owned by Power Corp.
You can’t hide Andre Desmarais even when you’re the prime minister.
Power Corp. is the power behind the Canadian government, through both Liberal and Conservative governments.”
Well, well. Andre Desmarais with Stephen Harper and Chinese government officials? It might appear that not having a long history of business and personal ties to the Desmarais family is not an inpediment to progress in the Prime Ministers office.
None of what I write here, is news. It is known to most political junkies, most newspaper men and women and reported on infrequently in bits and pieces. However, when you connect the dots and put it all together to show the bigger picture.. all at once…
An ” Aha…” moment, if you will.
When large corporations straddle the line between policy influence and creation, between business and government, at this level, we have a problem.
When a Chinese state owned investment company is involved in policy creation and influence,in any way, shape or form and a member of a Canadian business association, we have a problem.
When we have highly influential former government officials working in the middle of this, again straddling the line between business and policy making, how can Canadians even begin to have faith our government is putting our interests first ?
In my opinion, the answer is, we cannot. We cannot have faith our government is putting the interests of Canadians, our security and our defence, above foreign interest, or foreign influence.
And when some of the most powerful rainmakers have managed to hold court over at least two major federal political parties, as it would seem, the only option left had better work three times as hard to show Canadians how they intend to change the course of history in this country, before we lose it all.
You can read the first installment of the Playing with the Dragon series, here: http://lailayuile.com/2012/04/12/playing-with-the-dragon-who-is-looking-after-canadian-interests-while-china-outwits-our-governments/