Why China's Wang Yi felt free to throw a hissy fit in Ottawa

Why Wang Yi felt free to throw a hissy fit

Terry Glavin on Canada’s cowering in the face of Chinese pressure

China's Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (left) and Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion participate in a press conference on Wednesday, June 1, 2016 in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/CP)

China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (left) and Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion June 1, 2016 in Ottawa. (Justin Tang, CP)

Judging by the tenor of the commentary on the opinion pages and the expert banter on all the usual television and radio public affairs programs, respectable opinion in Canada has decisively coalesced around the proposition that a very dim view indeed should be taken of Wang Yi, the emissary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, who made a spectacle of himself by throwing a tantrum during a press conference in Ottawa last week.

But there is another way of looking at Wang’s petulant outburst—“You have no right to speak on this!”—in response to a question that was put not even to him, but to Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, that touched delicately on the subject of human rights in China. From a more public-spirited perspective, Wang’s disgraceful harangue of iPolitics reporter Amanda Connolly has helpfully brought into focus a pattern of grovelling and mendacity in Canada-China relations that is rarely so closely observable.

Keeping Wang’s visit a secret until the last minute. Cravenly submitting to Wang’s boorish demands for an immediate audience with the Prime Minister. Disguising Canada’s humiliating obsequiousness in the most absurdly dainty diplomatic euphemisms. Resorting to such preposterous occlusions as to permit a single public encounter and a single query to Wang that required several questions from a variety of news organizations to be combined into a single question, with one follow-up allowed.

All this, and with a single public baring of Beijing’s sharp and bloody teeth, Dion is reduced to just standing there gawping through the whole thing, and the elaborate pantomime comes undone. So perhaps we should all be thanking Wang. Not even Dion’s subsequently frantic exertions in damage control can subtract from the public exhibition Wang made of Beijing’s belligerent, bullying vulgarity on “the world stage,” and of our own government’s kowtowing to it.

Related reading: Trudeau hopes to strengthen China relations 

Before Wang’s interjection, Dion responded to Connolly’s question by mumbling something typically anodyne about Canada hoping that everyone can “agree to disagree,” as though all sides are equal, when they’re not. In the aftermath, Dion asserted that questioning politicians in Canada is a journalist’s “prerogative,” except it isn’t, it’s a constitutional right, and a solemn public duty besides.

Dion further claimed he’d just stood there with a dumb look on his face while Connolly was berated because she’s thick-skinned and needed no one to come to her defence, except no, this was not about chivalry. This is about quite a few things that Justin Trudeau’s new government would rather not become the subject of too much loose talk.

The Canada-China free-trade deal that was ostensibly at the top of Wang’s agenda in Ottawa is also the holy grail of a legion of former Liberal cabinet ministers and Chrétien-era mandarins who have insinuated themselves into lucrative Canada-China trade consultancies. Free trade with China was absent from Prime Minister Trudeau’s campaign pledges last year, but it suddenly became a top priority as soon as Trudeau got the job in October.

Related reading: How China is going to help save the world

The G7 countries, perhaps especially Japan, would rather Trudeau focus on China’s outlandish usurpation of the South China Sea, for starters. Then there’s the “irritant” involving Kevin Garratt, the Canadian missionary who was taken hostage by Chinese authorities in 2014 in retaliation for the former Conservative government revealing that a “highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor” had hacked into the computer systems of Canada’s National Research Council.

Canada says Garratt should be released before free-trade talks begin. Trudeau claims he’s wary about Chinese espionage, but also says there’s nothing wrong with Chinese state-owned enterprises buying up as much of Canada’s resource sector as it likes. Chinese President Xi Jinping says that if Canada wants free access to Chinese markets, Trudeau should first ram a pipeline to the B.C. coast on China’s behalf. “These discussions are central to a healthy relationship,” Dion said after Wang’s tirade.

Except they’re not. Canada cannot have a healthy relationship with a tyrannical regime that has lately reverted to the same brutish police-state habits that led up to the Tiananmen massacre. Under Xi, China has again become the world’s top jailer of journalists. China’s rank on the Reporters Without Borders index of press freedom is 176th out of 180 countries. China comes in dead last on the Freedom House “Freedom on the Net” list.

Trudeau and Dion insisted that they talked about Canadian sensitivities about human rights during private conversations with Wang, and will continue to say things like this in further private conversations. But to the unelected autocrats who run China’s government, hearing Canadian politicians preface their entreaties with perfunctory and ritualized mentions of the term “human rights” is like having to sit through some boring folk dance before the business part of the meeting’s agenda begins. They don’t care, as long as they get what they want.

Xi has made plain that he will no longer tolerate hearing the words “human rights” spoken out loud in the same sentence with the word “China.” That’s why Wang felt free to throw a hissy fit in Ottawa last week. It’s also why Canadians cannot allow themselves to be told to shut up about human rights in China.


Why Wang Yi felt free to throw a hissy fit

  1. Terry Glavin has produced a well presented, excellently written, easily read, and factual article that our government should seriously take into consideration. I am sure that (unelected) Mr. Wang was welcomed home by (unelected) President Xi as a ‘hero’. But, naturally, China must be continuously reminded about human rights.

  2. This isn’t an article, it’s a collection of buzz words….and it reeks of western arrogance.

    When we talk about trade with the US we don’t berate them for Gitmo. The UK has a massive history of brutality……..and we have Attawapiskat with everything that it represents.

    Discuss trade at trade talks…….not our supposed superiority. The Chinese won’t put up with it anymore and I don’t blame them

    • Oh boy… where to begin with this gem? First, this article is the result of a reporter asking the Chinese Affairs Minister a question regarding human rights and the response that ensued. Judging by your ignorant comment, are we to assume that you are in favour of enacting some sort of ban on the press, preventing them from asking questions that they warrant important? As I recall, Stephen Harper was not the most open with the press, and if memory serves, you weren’t all that approving of it when he did it. None the less emily, freedom of the press is an important pillar of our society and not something that should be censored. On the other hand, if you feel differently, perhaps you might considered moving to communist China, where they are more accepting of your regressive views.

      Second, your assertion that Canada and the US have their human rights issues, therefore, we should keep quiet about China’s is a fallacious argument. Simply because Canada has its human rights issues does not make it unacceptable for us to comment on the human rights of other countries. Embarrassing other countries on the world stage in regards to their human rights is a method to shame that country into improving their behaviour. We can argue whether it is effective or not, but its intent is fairly evident. You have shown that you personally don’t care about human rights, in which case, again, you may feel more at home living in communist China, where they also share your views.

      • cough…Saudi Arabia…cough

        • Yes, when is Dion going to invite an official from the Saudi royal family to Canada so a member of the Canadian press can question them on human rights?

      • Your criticism has some good points, but it should have begun, just to be polite, this way: “Emily, you ignorant slut…”

        • Hey….a Con intellectual has joined us!

          Or a high-school drop-out…..take your pick

    • That’s right, criticize every country in the world except China. How much are they paying you to post this boot-licking?

      • Why should we be criticizing anybody?

        Glass houses and all that….

        • “We” are not criticizing anyone. Our free press is. That is how investigative journalism works. When a person in politics steps in front of the mike in Canada, the journalists have the freedom to ask questions that might make the politician uncomfortable. Were Wang in China, he could have the journalist executed. He and Dion weren’t in China so the journalist won’t be executed at least not by a govt. order that is announced.

          • Does Canada want to do business with China or not?

            A basic rule of capitalism is ‘don’t insult your customers’

          • So exactly who is going to give the order to shut down freedom of press in Canada when it comes to countries Canada wants to do business with? I believe that would require a change to the constitution.
            You have a fascinating outlook on capitalism. Shut up and whore the country out to do the business deal but make sure that Canada is pristine and taking it up the a** from anyone who wants to insult us even when it gets us no business deals and then accept that it is all our fault for not being good enough. In fact you don’t even advocate for Canada buying from Canada because you have petty prejudice against certain parts of the country. You advocate for better conditions for our indigenous people but you don’t give a sh*t for the people of other countries. It is all about capitalism and we should suppress our press in our country which is actually against the law in Canada in order to do it. You get angry about our country’s environmental record yet you don’t seem accept that climate change is a global issue. The entire globe shares the emission problems. This was evidenced when irradiated winds arrived on the west coast of Canada from Japan. You don’t want Alberta to succeed but you want to do trade with China which is a complete environmental mess? Where is the rationale?

          • Get a grip Gage.

            We have our own culture…..but we can’t force it on others

            The rest of your post is a confused mess as always

    • Comments like this mostly come from people that don’t understand China. If you think “The Chinese” are represented by people like Wang Yi you are completely wrong. Many of “The Chinese” appreciate Beijing being pushed on human rights.

      You are either totally ignorant of the realities of China or a Wu Mao.

      • Yeah yeah…..1.2B Chinese are helpless and oppressed…we know.

      • They ARE represented by people like Wang Yi.

    • Many Canadian journalists have written about Gitmo, Attawapiskat and certainly we are not in the dark
      about racism in the Canada since Macleans did a huge article on it regarding the City of Winnipeg and First Nations peoples. The UN has reported on Canada’s poor treatment of First Nations peoples. Everybody has reported on the poor behavior of Rob Ford. Everybody has reported on Canada’s dismal environmental record. Freedom of the press and freedom of speech is a fact of life that you seem to embrace daily with your blogging. Suddenly the Canadian press should stop being investigative journalists when members of other governments enter Canada? Bullsh*t. I know you have expressed your regard for Putin and many other despots but you really do pick and choose. Harper was unforgivable in your books but people who murder others with polonium are okay and so are ones that run over their own citizens with tanks….except the Saudi’s….

  3. I hope we hear more about the custom-built senior Liberal lobby for China mentioned in the article.

    • China’s ambassador to Canada, in the Globe and Mail:

      “During his transit in Montreal, Foreign Minister Wang met with former prime minister Jean Chrétien, mayor of Montreal Denis Coderre and honorary chairman of Canada-China Business Council André Desmarais. Wang was encouraged by the strong desire and high expectations of Canadian business community and local governments for closer ties between the two countries.”

      Pretty smug, especially as it was penned as a penultimate paragraph. One wonders if they believe they are talking to “the people who matter” and that valid questions don’t matter if they don’t come from “the people who matter.” Wasn’t that what adscam was about?

      Wang Yi’s obvious shamelessness indeed goes beyond merely the reality of China’s way of doing things, and that’s why this column is much appreciated for standing up for Canada’s democratic values.

      • And you think a reporter is supposed to ‘uphold our values’ by forcing them on China?

        Who died and made us God?

        Who made the reporter God?

        How be we stick to business and trade…

        • They’re not ‘our’ values, they’re universal values according to the UN Charter. We’re not talking about food here, we’re talking about prisoners having their organs harvested without anesthetic because they’re ‘enemies of China’. We and a coalition of other countries with a spine should level an embargo on any goods being imported from China until they fix their labour, environmental and human rights problems, no matter the cost.

          • Why yes….until they conform to the way we do things… we shouldn’t trade with them

            Western arrogance

          • Oh Em, I believe it is more than western arrogance to expect them to put the patient under before harvesting their organs for sale to rich US buyers. Come on. Now you are just being obtuse. That is practiced in surgical ORs the world over. It isn’t just “the way we do things.”

          • Hey EmilyOne, I was referring to the author of this article standing up for our democratic values. Unlike Guy_Fawkes, I see this whole fiasco in the larger context that the author of the article has so painstakingly assembled, the context of Amanda Conolly’s question. The reporter is not in a position to judge, of course. Why should the foreign minister feel judged? Perhaps he has a heart like any human does, and it is his own heart that condemns himself, and so he feels judged. If not, why couldn’t he come up with a diplomatic way to put the question in his own context, reframing it and take the teeth out of it? I’m sure Canadians can think up some possible answers for him.

            I agree that we should stick to the topic of business and trade. The value of this article is that it is pointing Canadians to have a cautious eye on their own business in Canada, in light of the interactions that have come about, first from the foreign minister, and then from the ambassador.

        • Sorry Emily, a small point, but the journalist’s question was asked of Mr.Dion, not the (unelected) Mr.Wang.

          • We know who the journo was asking….and the question was irrelevant.

            Did you know our Queen is unelected?

            Also the GG, the Supreme Court and all judges?

      • I view this outburst more as a negotiation technique. With my negotiations in Asia over the years, the Asia side does appear to like to bully their way. Chinese and Japanese do not have a word for win-win only win-lose. Mr. Yang is determined his side wins

        • Or maybe he just got impatient and fed up. After all we need them far more than they need us….so it’s time to assert themselves.

          The kow-tow is passe

        • There is a strict rule in diplomatic circles that a Foreign Minister may not demand a meeting with a Prime Minister.

          • There is no such rule LOL

      • Gage….call your dealer….you have some bad weed

  4. Sure it was boorish and dismissive of reporters but they should be used to it as it is pretty well what Harper demanded throughout his tenure as Prime Minister and to which they humbly and uncomplainingly submitted.

    ” Resorting to such preposterous occlusions as to permit a single public encounter and a single query to Wang that required several questions from a variety of news organizations to be combined into a single question, with one follow-up allowed.”

    Nothing new about that to Press Gallery reporters.Just like the good old days with our very own PM Harper.

    • The reporters complained heartily as was their right with Harper. We have a free press. Do you suggest we muzzle them? What would be said about them if they volleyed easy questions and never asked the difficult questions? Why have a press. Maybe we should stick to a government run press that suppresses the internet like they do in China.
      You might recall that a reporter named Robert Fife broke the story on Nigel Wright and the fact that he paid $90K for Duffy’s senate expenses. What the Globe and Mail and the reporters that broke the story on Rob Ford and the crack pipe? Investigative reporting hold politicians’ feet to fire. They do an invaluable job. It isn’t up to anyone to tell them what they can ask of any politician visiting our country, especially when Canadians are being held overseas for bogus crimes.

      • Wang Yi doesn’t have to give a press conference either

  5. Reading these comments, it’s obviously time for MacLeans to require readers to use their real names.

    • Well you wouldn’t have truthful answers then wouldja….

      It would be using ‘mob violence’ to control speech

      It would especially impact women

    • I’ve heard a lot about this news story over the past few days, I think anyone needs to know about China is in this very short clip, I feel like it tells everything about the people and culture.


      BTW – this would never happen in Canada or the US

      • China the earliest country and culture in the world…..5000 years…… and YOU….. citizen of a 150 year old country presume to judge them on some internet clip?

        Again, western arrogance.

        PS you might want to look up Catherine Genovese

        Or just look at the news sometime and see all the children tortured and killed by their own parents.

        • It’s not so much a judgment based on an internet clip as it is a validation of what I think we all already knew (as westerners).

          There is only so many broken cheap Chinese manufactured nails that you can buy from Home Depot before you realize the problem isn’t just with nails, it’s deeper. It’s the very way of thinking (in China) that is the problem.

          If China can’t come up to the human rights standards of the western world in 5,000 years, it seems unlikely that they ever will, there is this concept we have called compassion, I thought it was universal but now I’m not so sure.

          • Almost everything you have…..including the computer you’re using….came from China. Paper, the printing press, oil rigs…….

            And kindly don’t make a fool of yourself by talking about ‘western human rights standards’. We haven’t any

          • I guess it was a slip up when you used the word “we”. I can’t imagine you’ll ever be able to use the words “we”.

            You’re on your own, I hate to point out the obvious, just look back through the comments on this board.

          • Justin 2016

            I frequently use the collective ‘we’. Get over it

          • EmilyOne

            This is getting weird I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with this conversation. I wouldn’t talk with you like this face to face so I think I should apologize if I’ve offended you.

            I don’t think we are going to see eye to eye on this matter though. My mind is made up about China’s human rights track record, but I might change my mind someday, I hope I do.

            I’m have no reason to think that you aren’t a good person in real life, people sometimes say things they haven’t fully thought out on the internet sometimes, and sometimes they don’t even mean what they say.

            So I don’t want to end this by making you feel bad about something that I said.

            I hope you have a nice day in your real life. I’m making a kiss gesture at the monitor now.


          • Justin…..I’m not in the least offended, so don’t worry about it

            However you should read things more carefully

            China certainly has human rights violations according to our standards…..however our standards are not their standards…..and we have no right to impose our culture on them. THAT is western arrogance.

            Especially since we violate human rights standards all the time.

            We are very hypocritical…..and the Chinese have every right to be annoyed.

  6. He felt entitled because Moonbeam and his wife, Aretha-Gregoire, soul sister of Sussex Drive, have allowed it with their weakness. It’s part of Dion’s brand too. They ignored Oui! until they nearly lost the election, then he wrote a preposterous piece of legislation, giving Quebec an avenue to separate where none existed before. That’s the “genius” of the Liberal Pardy.

    Not that I care. I’d boot them out. My Canada includes the Gaspe!

    • You guys must share the same drug dealer.

  7. It’s not that he felt he could, it’s that he felt he needed to. That’s the important point. He certainly has a hot button. Not only did he reveal that button, he also brought international attention to the one thing he wanted to never be spoken of.

    Rather stupid mistake actually, as he will will pretty much have to blacklist himself from every possible situation where Western reporters are allowed to ask questions. No Western reporter would miss the chance to press that button again. He’s done on the international stage. Finished. Useless.

    Stupid career-ending mistake for someone that calls themselves a diplomat, actually.

    • Again…you assume he’s playing by our rules.

      • ‘Emily’, after all this time, have we discovered your desk in the Chinese embassy basement? ;-)

        • Boy that pot dealer has a lot of customers.

  8. I hadn’t heard about this so I tried to inform myself by reading Terry Glavin’s article. The words chosen by the writer sent me to the dictionary constantly thus dragging me to such a slow pace I kept looking back at the title to see if this was really worth my time. I don’t talk or write like this and I know of no one who does, well, perhaps Rex Murphy. I want better journalism than the newspaper, but I don’t want a headache either. After 20 mins I quit….and found another reason NOT to renew my McLEANS Subscription.