In the wake of the Huseyin Celil human-rights case, a parliamentary subcommittee is grappling with the question of what Ottawa can do to protect thousands of Canadians of Chinese origin if they run afoul of the authorities in China.

Experts told the international human rights subcommittee of the House yesterday that about 300,000 Canadian passport holders of Chinese origin live or work in China or travel to other places in Asia where their status as Canadian citizens might be questioned if they got into a legal jam.

The Harper government would be wise to turn down the political volume and try to improve relations with Beijing to find a solution to the dual-citizenship issue, the panel was told by Paul Evans, chairman of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, and former Liberal trade minister Sergio Marchi, who is now president of the Canada China Business Council.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has linked relations with China to the case of Mr. Celil, a Canadian born in China and was deported back there by Uzbekistan, even though he was travelling on his Canadian passport. China refuses to recognize dual citizenship for people born in China. Mr. Celil is being tried in China on terrorism charges.

A huge number of other Canadians of Chinese origin are “potentially at risk” because Beijing won’t recognize their Canadian citizenship, Mr. Evans said.

“We don’t think megaphone diplomacy is an alternative that will advance the cause” of human rights in dealings with China,” Mr. Marchi said.

The Chinese resent “being lectured to by foreigners,” he added.

“There are times when the Chinese don’t make life easy” for Canada, Mr. Marchi said. “That’s not reason enough to shout louder.”

Mr. Evans said Canada risks losing a lot of business if the Conservative government does not build a warm political relationship with China.

Liberal and Conservative MPs on the subcommittee, including chairman Jason Kenney, the Secretary of State for Multiculturalism, challenged the witnesses to demonstrate that any Canadian company has lost business with China because the year-old Harper government is taking a harder line on human rights.

It is hard to demonstrate that commercial retaliation takes place, Mr. Evans said. “No, we can’t point to specifics. But we don’t know yet the full Chinese reaction to cool political relations.”

Chinese political officials still have a big say on megaprojects and in what foreign countries are allowed to do business in the aviation and financial-services sectors, Mr. Evans added.

Mr. Marchi said there is evidence France lost a nuclear reactor sale to China because Beijing was angry with a French decision to sell jet warplanes to Taiwan.

Mr. Kenney didn’t seem to be impressed, citing current figures showing that Canada runs a lopsided trade deficit with China.

He also said that Canadian business with China did not languish, but actually grew after Canada’s chilly response to the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in 1989.

The Chinese are engaging in industrial espionage in Canada, stealing corporate secrets, Mr. Kenney said.

Written by: Jeff Sallot
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