The origins of an international incident developed at a table by the window of a busy coffee shop in a downtown Beijing hotel. For almost an hour on Jan. 5, Wu Yong-fen recounted to three visiting Canadian politicians the way in which the Chinese regime had recently sentenced her 37-year-old son, Chen Zeming, a prominent political dissident, to 13 years in jail for his alleged role as an organizer of the 1989 student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. Suddenly, the 65-year-old woman jumped to her feet and pointed at a plainclothes police officer apparently monitoring the discus-
sion from a nearby table. “I know who you are,” Wu told the man. “I’m not afraid of you.” Less than 24 hours later, Chinese police unceremoniously expelled the Canadian MPs, Conservative Geoffrey Scott, Liberal Beryl Gaffney and New Democrat Svend Robinson, from China for activities that one official called “incompatible with their status.” Said Scott later at a news conference in Hong Kong: “We were the lucky ones. We got out of there.”
By ejecting the Canadians, the Chinese government dramatically illustrated its intolerance of outside interference in its domestic affairs. But it also cast an international spotlight on an event that the government is anxious to bury: the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989, in which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died, and the subsequent imprisonment of Chen and an estimated one million other alleged political dissidents. Fore-
ibly expelling the Canadians, said Diana Lary, a former diplomat in Beijing and now a history professor at York University near Toronto, “created maximum publicity for human rights abuses.” It also provoked a diplomatic incident. External Affairs Minister Barbara McDougall swiftly denounced the expulsions as an “affront to the institution of Parliament.” Still, senior External officials in Ottawa were reluctant last week to assess any long-term damage to relations between Canada and the world’s most populous country. “We will continue to be cautious,” said a spokesman who requested
anonymity, “but I don’t expect that this will change much.”
Certainly, other Western delegations in China have raised human rights concerns in the past. And when Canada’s ambassador in Beijing last week protested the treatment of the three MPs, Chinese officials would not say exactly what rules they had broken. In fact, the MPs said that they had abandoned plans to lay a memorial bouquet of flowers in Tiananmen Square because Chinese officials told them that such a gesture would have been illegal. But clearly, the Canadians, who were on a privately funded visit, aggressively pursued their selfdescribed mission to examine China’s human rights record. In that respect, said Raymond Chan, chairman of the Vancouver branch of the Society in Support of the Democratic Movement, a Chinese-Canadian advocacy group that raised $10,000 to help pay the Canadians’
expenses, “this mission was a success—it exposed the truth inside China.”
In Hong Kong, the MPs insisted that Chinese authorities had been fully aware of their itinerary, which included visits with relatives of dissidents. They had also requested permission to visit a normally off-limits Beijing jail holding many prominent political prisoners. But the MPs said that the day after the incident in the coffee shop, the driver of their van unexpectedly turned into a courtyard where about 100 armed police officers and soldiers surrounded them. Robinson and Scott said that they were “manhandled” and separated from the Canadian Embassy official who had accompanied them. Then, police ordered their driver to take the three MPs to the airport, escorted by a cavalcade of 14 police cars. Richard Lee, a Chinese-Canadian who was acting as the parliamentarians’ interpreter, was also taken to the airport. Their luggage, in hotel laundry bags, was dumped at their feet before the Canadians were ordered aboard a flight to Hong Kong, 12 hours before their scheduled departure. Said Gaffney: “This was the most humiliating and degrading experience of my life.”
Ottawa officials noted that the incident took place at a time when ChinaCanada relations were just beginning to recover from Beijing’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre, then-External Affairs Minister Joe Clark briefly recalled the Canadian ambassador. Clark also ordered a revision of Canada’s policy towards China, including cancellation or delay of eight foreign aid projects, suspension of military equipment sales and a freeze on cultural and political exchanges. Only trade between the two countries, which totalled $3 billion in 1990, was not affected.
A thaw in political relations was evident in October, when Agriculture Minister William McKnight made the first official Canadian ministerial visit to China in more than two years. McKnight, who raised Canada’s concern about China’s human rights record, was on a mission to increase grain sales, the mainstay of Canada’s $1.6 billion in exports to China in 1990. The next month, Canada offered to re-negotiate a $ 175-million Export Development Corp. line of credit to encourage China to buy Canadian goods. According to a senior trade official, foreign aid projects are now approved only on a project-by-project basis.
The expulsion of the three Canadian parliamentarians is expected to have little long-term effect on evolving relations between Ottawa and Beijing. But the ramifications for Wu, the mother who volunteered to tell her son’s story in a fearless campaign to win his freedom, remain unknown.
E. KAYE FULTON in Ottawa with correspondents’ reports
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