Human Rights in China

Honourable senators, in recent weeks Canadians have been captivated by the takeover of Nexen by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or CNOOC. The chatter we heard was mostly about Canada being open for business, and China an ideal customer. That may be so, but the fact is that China is still ignoring its human rights obligations, and that has been, it seems to me, completely forgotten. Despite our economic ties with China, we cannot forget that it is a country where democracy and free speech are in short supply.

Last week, for example, a Chinese author received the Nobel Prize for literature, Mo Yan. He is a communist party member, and it was felt at that time that he should at least speak out for his fellow writer who has won a Nobel Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo. Mr. Liu was recognized for his peaceful human rights activism and his promotion of free speech and thought. Now where is he? In prison, I believe an 11-year term, and his wife may as well be living in a prison. She is under house arrest. She is permitted to see her husband only once a month and just to go for lunch, and the guards follow her wherever she goes.

It is unimaginable what is happening in some of the gulags in China where there are people who advocate human rights and free speech — the kind of free speech we have every day here in this Senate. Earlier this month, 134 Nobel laureates published an open letter calling on China’s new president, Xi Jinping, to help release Mr. Liu.

Honourable senators, I lived in China for five years and I covered the massacre in Tiananmen Square. I have seen the rights of Chinese dissidents and ordinary Chinese people abused. Therefore, I urge us, at a time we are paying so much attention to what is going on in China and China-Canada economic relations, to just stop for a moment during this particular time and remember as well that there are those who hunger for the kind of free speech that we have.