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History Table of Contents
1997 Summer Conference
 
Summer Conference 1997
Canada and the Asia-Pacific Promise: Hope, Hype and Reality
Canada's National Interest in the Asia Pacific:
Trade and Investment, Political Change and International Security

Questions

Diana is concerned that we're watering down out discourse on human rights in the name of business development and trade and that kind of thing and we're failing to hold countries accountable to their freely-declared international obligations and we're doing it in a particular name, also arguing that those rights are, in her view, fundamental to successful trade and business development.

On the other hand, Ian describes the PLA as the best business people in China. And I'm sure the Colombian drug lords are the best business people in Colombia. And I'm not sure that even he would say that's the rationale for doing business.

What I need is to have you two talk a little bit more about this, because I don't believe that as a country, as a world, we can afford to have the human rights issue submerged by business considerations, nor can we afford to have the business side submerged by [the] human rights side.

I'm not satisfied that you two have worked enough on synthesizing your two views to give us a sense of what good business and public policy would do. My request is for them to work this a little more and see where their views can come together to give us something that makes sense from a public policy perspective and not something that's simply organizational positions.

Bronson: There's a few things that can be addressed. One is that when we say we can't impose our values on Asia, the kind of Lee Kwan Yew argument you gave during your speech. That has been responded to countless times by Asians. That's been responded to, particularly in the case of Lee Kwan Yew, by Kim Dae Yung in a debate that took place in Foreign Affairs magazine, which makes for very interesting reading on the so- called Asian cultural values debate.

The other thing is that Asian NGOs have responded to that. That was a major issue in a lead up to the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights and I can quote from what is now known as the Bangkok NGO Declaration on Human Rights.

It says: We reject the suggest that any person must be prepared to risk torture or deny their conscientiously-held beliefs on the basis of a stated priority of economic development. Conversely, we reject the argument that the protection of an individual's rights to physical integrity in any way lessens the obligation of government to provide for the human needs of their people. One set of rights can never be bargained for another.

And that, too, has become a fundamental principle of the international community. Again, reaffirmed in Vienna, which is the indivisibility of human rights, civil, political, social, economic, cultural. One cannot be bargained for the other; they must proceed hand in hand.

The other comment I'd make is about business. I think there are good and bad ways of doing business. And our Centre recently commissioned a study on the 100 biggest Canadian corporations and their codes of conduct and what they have to say about human rights.

I think corporations and, in fact most corporations agree with this, have a moral and a social obligation to ensure their business practices are not worsening the human rights situation in the countries where they operate.

And they should explicitly spell that out in codes of conduct. They should spell out their labour practices, their environmental practices, how they're going to deal with government.

I was reading over Northern Telecom's code of conduct last night, which is one of the better codes of conduct, but in which the words human rights are not mentioned. It focused on the environment and health and safety considerations, but there are real human rights issues.

What do you do when one of your people gets arrested? What kind of standards are you going to impose on how you're going to deal with repressive governments? What are you going to do when operating in a country where freedom of association is not allowed? Trade and investment are going to help when corporations have a responsibility to see that they in fact do.

Shortreed: In Super 301, when it's applied by the U.S. to Japan and the U.S. has applied 301 to Japan a couple of thousand times in the last 10 years, the Japanese reaction to the application of 301 is to be defensive. They basically go into a complete cocoon mode and they're not going to move in negotiations, which is why you never get any results out of 301; it's a defensive posture.

Similarly, human rights. If we as Canadians or Americans basically put the Asian up on the wall, somewhat like grabbing his tie and throwing him against the wall and say, you have to get in line with the following points, the Asian's reaction will be defensively to say: Screw you, I'm not a Westerner. And that's what the Chinese are doing.

So, the conclusion would be: Maybe we can go into China or to other places — I'm in total agreement regarding the state of human rights in China, it's atrocious. The problem is our approach to trying to solve it is wrong. The Asians are going to react to us by saying, get out of here.

Bronson: Which Asians?

Shortreed: The Chinese. The Chinese consistently have done it.

Bronson: The government will say that. That's not what NGOs are saying. And that's not what Chinese democrats in exile are saying. I don't think any human rights activists are going and grabbing people by their ties and saying, you do it this way. That's just not the way we operate.

Shortreed: But the Chinese government perceives it that way. And Asian governments perceive it that way.

Bronson: That's a paranoid delusion, because that's not what's happening.

Shortreed: Well, there's certainly not much progress on human rights in China, because the Chinese see themselves being basically overwhelmed by Westerners dictating to them. The Chinese would rather have a meeting where they would come into a meeting on Aboriginal rights in Canada and racism against new Canadians, a comparative meeting, where the Chinese can give feedback to Canadians on how we can clean up our own society. Then, the Chinese will come in and discuss with us about human rights.

Bronson: I think that's what Lloyd Axworthy's doing. Is it not? I think their first bilateral meeting between China and Canada has taken place and I think that was precisely the issue that the Chinese wanted to put on the table; that was treatment of native people. But, in this country you are free to stand up and criticize your government. And there is nobody in China who is doing that right now, because they're all in jail.

Shortreed: I'm not arguing that point. I agree with you. My thesis is simply a thesis. We have to be able to have a different approach to bringing people to the table on human rights. It ain't working. They're basically walking away from the table and saying, I'm not interested in talking with you.

So, we need to have some different way of engagement. I think the other way of engagement is a humble way, saying, yes, we have a lot of problems in our society. And believe me, the Asian societies from Thailand through to China perceive Canada and North America as not being very healthy societies in 1997. And, I think with some justice, from looking overseas as a Canadian.

You'll probably want to shoot me and say I'm not a loyal Canadian. But the bottom line is there has been a serious degradation in the quality of life in this society from my point of view. And that's from growing up as a child in Canada and coming back and looking at it now.

Bronson: I don't think you defend the international standards...when you're saying there's no problems at home. Those are international standards. We helped to build them. China, by the way, has signed on to them.

Shortreed: ...when [the Chinese] sit down on human rights, make it easier for them...then, there'll be some movement. There won't be movement with people holding them up to the wall...that's what we're doing. Really, that's all I'm saying. I agree with you 100 per cent on no gulags, no censorship. That all has to be stopped. We just have to refocus ourselves on the methodology of doing that.

Yuen: It's certainly true, though, if you can take some of the emotion out of it, that the North American people tend to talk too much.

I'm from Indonesia. Actually, my mission in Canada is not covering politics, but more in trade and investment. But, as human rights is always mentioned, I can't keep quiet in this case, even [though] human rights is covered by our embassy in Ottawa.

In human rights we have a different point of view with the Western. We look at human rights, not only in political points of view, but also social and economic, as we look also in the case of Pakpahan.

Law and order should be respected...we realize that human rights and democracy should be respected, but don't look at Indonesia compared with democracy in developed countries like Canada at present.

We still have problems to manage for the 17,500 islands and 200 million people. We face very big problems to manage them, not only in human rights but also in the better standard of living. We want to learn more and listen to all opinions from other countries as long as it is a constructive criticism, or constructive point of view.

Indonesia prefers to create friendship with anybody else, to sit together and talk and solve the differences..we would like to discuss together the point of view of differences in political, social and economics.

Indonesia is a suffering country. We don't want to be dictated [to] from anyone else in trade or in politics, even from the Superpower. If you followed the news a few weeks ago, Indonesia would like to buy military aircraft from the United States and this was criticized by the Senate or Parliament. They accused us that the military aircraft would be used for killing people. That is not true. And the Indonesia government statement said we stopped. We will not be buying any product in military aircraft or any[thing] else if we are dictated [to] by this kind of statement.

[There are] many other countries offering [aircraft] with a nice price to Indonesia. So, we decided we aren't buying military aircraft from the United States. That is the Indonesian point of view: We don't want to be dictated to from anybody else. We are a sovereign country. We have our own constitution and everything is based on national interest.

Bronson: I don't think the issue is anybody trying to dictate to Indonesia what to do. In fact, we have requested a dialogue with the Indonesian embassy in Ottawa and they have refused to meet with us so far.

We requested a meeting with the Indonesian trade minister when he came and he too refused to meet with us. It was never a question of dictating what to do. I think your point about the relationship between civil and political developments and social and economic rights, as far as I know I made that point two or three minutes ago.

I find your intervention on behalf of the Indonesian government to be quite predictable and I don't find that you have actually responded to the concerns that over 100,000 Canadians have expressed about Muchtar Pakpahan.

Shortreed: I think this is a good example of what I talked earlier about: Why trade attached to human rights doesn't work.?In a 1995 study by a group called Engage, which would be the opposite of this group. Engage is made up of the Fortune 500 companies. They pooled all their resources and lobbied the Commerce Department of the United States to stop attaching trade to human rights. And they were successful. You've seen the switch in Clinton's policy on China in the last 24 months. That is Engage's lobbying and it's been quite successful.

In their study to try and move the Clinton Administration away from attaching human rights to trade, they found that in 1995 the United States lost — and these are their numbers and I'm sure they're skewed numbers to support their argument — a total of $20 billion U.S. were lost on a total of 26 countries that were sanctioned by the United States in 1995.

And that translated into 200,000 jobs lost in the United States, according to Engage through human rights and trade being attached together.

I think this is a good example, as well. A fighter jet cost what — two, three, four million dollars — it's not one fighter jet, I think it's more like 10 fighter jets. This deal is worth almost $20 million or $30 million U.S. which has been lost.

But, having said that, at what point; for example, anything we say to China, we always get the answer back that we're interfering in their internal affairs, I mean anything.

How would an organization like APEC, which is a multilateral, international organization, how would it incorporate the discussion of issues which are beyond trade? Currently it's focussed on trade and investment. What are the mechanisms that it would use for doing this? We know there is an ABEC, an advisory council for business. Is there any other sort of mechanism we could use to engage your term, civil society? What kinds of groups would represent the various countries? Even if we could agree in APEC [on] any advisory council for civil society groups, what kind of mechanism?

Bronson: If the political will in APEC existed to engage civil society, there's any number of mechanisms that could be used. I'm sure you know there are a number of working groups and committees within APEC. They could be more open in their acceptance of representatives of civil society. The International Centre, for example, applied to have guest status on the working group on human resources development and we were refused, because it requires consensus amongst the 18 members.

But, I think at that kind of bureaucratic level there could be more openness. And perhaps more importantly at the ministerial and leaders' level, where they could. Maybe we'll see some real progress on this in Vancouver. I certainly hope we will, where there will be, as I mentioned, an NGO forum, and will there be a channel to come forth with some of its recommendations and concerns at least to the host government and, hopefully, to more governments than that.

In the individual action plans that each country is required to develop within APEC, there's a number of social indicators that could be included in those plans. That could vary from ratification of ILO instruments, or international human rights treaties, to income disparity levels to reforms in terms of freedom of the press or other issues like that.

There's just countless ways in which social concerns could be integrated into APEC's agenda. It's really just a question of political will, I think.

Diana, we have done business in the West with Saudi Arabia probably for last 50 or 60 years and we do business with Turkey, Nigeria, Kenya and lately with Russia. And we have a great business with Mexico and Brazil. Are we concerned, or as concerned about human rights in those countries, as we are concerned about human rights in, say, Indonesia?

Bronson: Is our Centre, is that your question? Yes, absolutely. We have a number of programs that focus on a variety of issues in those countries. I'd be happy to send you our annual report that would detail some of the work we do in those countries. Globalization and human rights are one of four thematic programs we work on. We also work on women's rights around the world. We also work in Indigenous peoples rights and the rule of law.

I've asked several people around if they've heard of the MAI and most of them had not. Our economic leader, alias the Prime Minister, has been busy over all of January at the OECD trying to sell a trade deal.

I've worked on the FTA and NAFTA, so it's natural for me look for the APEC and I found out about the MAI from the Internet.

What the MAI essentially does — and it's really frightening — it's proper name is the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, so look for it. You'll see writeups in The Globe and Mail on it. It's not that it's totally secret, but in the sense that Jean Chretien did not mention it to us before the last election and because he is reported by Maclean's not to have told too many of his own ministers about it, we got some rather strange replies when we asked about the MAI at the time of the election. And it was kept quite quiet.

The reason for that, I believe, is that it really [is] really a serious agreement that we should all be looking at, because it does endanger further our democratic right, our environmental right and that's very serious.

Sylvia Ostry said two years ago [that] in every country all around the world at every level of government all the rules must be changed in order to accommodate global trade.

The question is, if we think that to give up some democracy is worth what we get in trade, well what do we do? What I had expected coming this weekend was that the MAI would also have been discussed. I never dreamt it would not. So, I have been rather disappointed.

My question about this is, first of all, what do we think of a Prime Minister who is doing this sort of thing without telling us? And what benefits could possibly justify a transfer of power from people and nations to transnational corporations? What possible gain do we have? How can we organize global economy to enhance, rather than diminish, human rights and democratic process and the life of the planet.

Bronson: ...what I see happening in globalization is really a diminishing of the power of the nation state and a failure to replace that loss by global institutions that are accountable to anyone anywhere.

This is particularly the case with institutions like APEC, or the World Trade Organization, the economic arrangements we have. There's extensive literature on the democratic deficit that is in fact being created. I think that that's a real problem. And that's one of the reasons why we are focusing on APEC, because as long as these institutions refuse to deal with the social dimension and to deal with the participation question, we're just going to continue to have that democratic deficit and nation states will have less and less power to control their own economic, social and political development.

The institutions that will have that power are transnational corporations and, while some of them are very responsible, they're not accountable to anybody except their shareholders.