Michael Ignatieff praises China, criticizes Canada's human rights
Speaking false praise to power
Michael Ignatieff used to take a tough line on China's dictatorship -- not surprising for a former director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard University.
In a 2005 lecture to Amnesty Ireland, Ignatieff made a short list of countries that he called human rights "outliers" and he named just three: Libya, North Korea and China. That's tantamount to calling China a rogue state.
Even after he became an MP in 2006, Ignatieff spoke sternly of China's lack of basic freedoms, telling the Georgia Strait that, if he could, he would ask the Chinese government, "Do you really want to build your prosperity on slavery?" And as recently as this year he told Calgary students that Canada must speak out against human rights violations, nomatterwherethey happen. "Just because China is big and powerful doesn't mean that Canada should back down on this issue."
This weekend the Liberal leader finally had his chance to speak truth to power on his official visit to China. But the Ignatieff who spoke to a carefully-screened group of Chinese students at Tsinghua University bore no resemblance to the Ignatieff who spent decades promotinghumanrights in speeches, books and as a professor.
In his speech, Ignatieff told his hosts, "We must be ready to speak plainly with one another about human rights." But he didn't. He made no mention of China's lack of democratic freedoms such as free elections and freedom of speech and the press, or its brutal treatment of ethnic minorities from the Tibetans to the Uyghurs. The only human rights track record he criticized was Canada's -- Ignatieff told his foreign audience that "I am not blind to the gap that exists between our ideals and reality for some of my fellow citizens."
Canada is a vibrant democracy with a heritage of freedom that dates back to the Magna Carta. It is a refuge for millions of people who have crossed oceans to be here -- including many refugees from China's own brutality. The way we respect ethnic minorities is best symbolized in our two most recent Governors-General. And yet the only "gap" Ignatieff saw fit to mention at Tsinghua was our own.
This fits well with Chinese government propaganda, but perhaps upon his return to Canada, Ignatieff might elaborate on our Canadian human rights violations to a more critical audience.
Disparaging Canada overseas is a sign of weakness. But Ignatieff's most bizarre comment was much more dangerous: He said China and Canada can "learn from each other in matters of rights, justice, civil service reform and corporate social responsibility."
It's easy to imagine China being able to learn from us about these things -- and it's easy to understand why the Communist Party hasn't chosen to do so. But how does Ignatieff think that Canada might learn from China on the matter of rights or justice? Does he really think that China's state capitalism -- a system of corruption, cronyism and routinely-violated property rights -- is something that we can learn from here, other than as a bad example to avoid? Civil service reform is a strange item to add to that list, but again, what exactly does Ignatieff see in China's bloated, corrupt, backwards civil service that he'd like to emulate here?
Ignatieff heaps false praise on China, saying its newfound prosperity -- for at least part of the country -- "has been one of the most significant advances in human rights for mankind ever." A higher standard of living is indeed a good thing. But what
does that have to do with human rights like the freedom to criticize the government, or to organize a political rally, or to believe in a religion that doesn't have the Communist Party's approval? Is Ignatieff really comparing China's material wealth -- at $10/day, their per capita GDP is still quite modest by international levels -- to the freedoms protected in the Magna Carta or the American Revolution or the Enlightenment?
Ignatieff falsely disparaged Canada's human rights achievements. HefalselylaudedChina's human rights achievements. And then he falsely implied a moral equivalence between our two countries -- that we are moral equals, and can learn from each other about matters like justice.
The Chinese students Ignatieff spoke to have to parrot such pro-China propaganda -- they have no choice. But what excuse does Michael Ignatieff have -- a man whose public work for thirty years proves that he knows better?