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September 20, 2016

Trudeau's Visit to China

Reuel S. Amdur

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to China is all about trade, in particular about a new Chinese regulation setting a one per cent ceiling on impurities in canola oil, a ceiling that producers claim is too hard to meet. The visit also provided an opportunity for him to raise the cases of Canadians imprisoned in that country.

Two clergymen were held there, Hamilton’s Imam Huseyin Celil and Christian missionary Kevin Garratt.  At this writing, Garratt has just been released.

Celil is accused by China of being the same person as Gulen Dilaver, wanted for terrorism on behalf of Uighur separatists in the Xinjang region of China.  Celil is a Uighur who has advocated for the rights of his people in that region, where ethnic tensions have exploded.  He was previously imprisoned there but escaped to Canada.  China is attempting to pacify the region by bringing in large numbers of China’s dominant ethnic group, Han Chinese.

He went to visit his wife’s family in Uzbekistan on family matters, and Uzbekistan responded to China’s request by sending him to China, where in 2007 he was tried and sentenced to life.  This past February, his sentence was reduced, but the extent of reduction was not reported.  While his Canadian citizenship should have canceled his Chinese citizenship, since China does not recognize dual citizenship, China continues to insist that he is Chinese and refused to allow normal counselor services and contacts.  Some speculate that the revision of his sentence may be an effort to enhance the country’s relationship with Canada prior to the Trudeau visit.

Four years into Celil’s imprisonment, the Harper government lost the chance to try to make a deal to get Celil freed.  In 2011, Canada deported Lai Changxing to China.  Described as their most wanted fugitive, he was wanted for massive tax fraud on imported goods and smuggling. 

He bribed officials with cash and with access to sexual services.  China was extremely anxious to get Lai, promising Canada that he would not be executed or tortured.  And so Harper sent him back.  But why this one-way street?  Since China was so anxious to have him back, could not Canada have insisted that Lai’s return would be dependent on Celil’s?  And if no deal, why return Lai?  China may now be softening on Celil.  We’ll see if Trudeau can succeed where Harper threw away his ace in the hole. 

Kevin Garratt and his wife Julia operated a coffee shop near the North Korean border.  The Garratts provided humanitarian aid to North Korea and as well as providing coffee and English lessons, they also held religious services.  The two were accused of providing military intelligence to Canada.

Some have linked the action against the Garratt’s to Canada’s discovery of Chinese cyber-espionage, particularly a cyberattack on the National Research Council discovered in 2014.  Other cyberattacks were uncovered previously.  Their arrests followed Canada’s public reporting of the hacking.  Might the arrests have been in retaliation?

It may be that China no longer needs our canola, but Canada imports a very large amount of Chinese goods.  China has of late behaved in a very aggressive manner, for example in its territory grab in the South China Sea.  Does this muscle-flexing preclude the development of more positive relations with Canada?  The Celil family hopes that Trudeau will have good news for them, but don’t count on it.  Can Trudeau succeed where Harper simply threw away the opportunity?  And will the oil on troubled waters be canola?

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