Flaherty vows to raise rights issues in China
Published Wednesday, January 17, 2007 11:19PM EST
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, in China to restore good relations with Beijing, said Wednesday that he vows to raise human rights concerns when he meets with Chinese officials.
Flaherty said it was his "duty to be frank" about Ottawa's concerns on human rights in China.
He told reporters he would raise the issue of Huseyin Celil, a Chinese-Canadian jailed in China on terrorism-related charges, The Associated Press reported.
China does not recognize his Canadian citizenship and he has been denied access to Canadian consular officials.
Celil's family says he is being persecuted because he is a Uighur Muslim and a political dissident who fled his homeland in the 1990s. Celil was arrested in Uzbekistan and extradited to China last year.
"We raise issues that we believe are important to Canadians,'' Flaherty said. "We believe in protecting the rights of Canadians around the world.''
Ottawa's bid to see Celil released has angered Chinese officials, as did Canada's granting of honourary citizenship to the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama.
At the same time, Flaherty stressed that Canada, a "free trading nation" is eager to rebuild ties with China.
"There is tremendous economic growth in China and there is increasing economic freedom in China and we can build on that relationship," he said.
Observers have said the government is pursuing a strategy in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper reserves the right to criticize Beijing's human-rights record while leaving his economic ministers to talk business.
International Trade Minister David Emerson, who is also in Beijing, announced this week that the Tories are developing a "China strategy" that will be financed with new money in the forthcoming federal budget.
Reports suggest March 20 is the day when the federal Conservatives will deliver their annual budget but Flaherty has denied any date has been set.
"I don't know where they get these dates from," Flaherty said in China on Wednesday.
"We haven't determined the date for the budget. At some point I'll be in a position to say that we've determined a date and what the date is, but I don't expect that will be soon. ... We hope to do the budget of course within a reasonable amount of time," he said.
Flaherty's seven-day trip to Beijing and Shanghai is part of an effort to rebuild economic ties and mend frayed relations.
Relations with China become icy in recent months after Harper publicly criticized China's human rights record, saying Canada wouldn't sell out "to the almighty dollar."