When asked at a news conference in Ottawa about the state of Canada-China relations, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien voiced a simple “very good.” His guest, China’s President Jiang Zemin, found it impossible to be so brief. Gently reaching out to pat Chrétien’s arm, a smiling Jiang said in English, “I would like to speak more words, thank you,” and launched into a flowery speech in Mandarin on the “long-term health of relations.” The Chinese leader’s increasingly confident and easygoing style was evident again that evening in Toronto when he addressed a ballroom of 1,300 business and political leaders who had paid $300 each. The Shakespeare fan impressed his audience by reading several sentences in English and concluded with “Merci beaucoup Chrétien had a lot to thank Jiang for as well. Trade Minister Sergio Marchi announced that $2.3 billion in potential deals had been signed during Jiang’s three-day state visit—including a smelter planned by Alcan Aluminium Ltd. and microwave transmitters for a cellular phone network. But outside the high-security whirlwind of hotels and meeting rooms, Jiang’s visit looked much less rosy. Protesters called the Communist party leader a “criminal” and a “butcher” for his country’s poor human rights record and its fierce opposition to independence for Tibet and Taiwan. In Ottawa, prominent dissident Harry Wu, now a U.S. citizen, joined a candlelight vigil after urging MPs to link trade to human rights. "Today, Communist China needs the West more than the West needs China,” Wu said.
Publicly, Chrétien was softer on Jiang than U.S. President Bill Clinton was in Washington five weeks earlier. But both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy insist that Ottawa has gone further than any other nation in quietly nudging China towards democratizing. In their private talk, Chrétien raised Tibet and offered to take in 13 political prisoners on a list that Axworthy presented last April. “Can’t you release even one?” Chrétien asked Jiang, a reference to the sudden release of activist Wei Jingsheng three weeks after Jiang’s meeting with Clinton. Jiang did not respond.
For Ni ma Dorjee, Calgary organizer of the Canada Tibet Committee, the red-carpet treatment accorded Jiang was particularly painful. “More than 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed by China and this man gets a 21-gun salute,” he said. Jiang sailed right past Dorjee into the Palliser Hotel for a state luncheon with Gov. Gen. Roméo LeBtanc, without a glance at the protest. Later, Calgary Mayor AI Duerr gave him the traditional white cowboy hat just before Jiang made an impromptu trip to Banff. It was about the only sightseeing he did. In Toronto, Jiang spent his entire 18-hour visit indoors, never even glimpsing the shouting protesters outside.
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