Canadian students urged by foreign ministry to study in China despite Kovrig, Spavor arrests
|National Post 22 Feb 2019 at 18:33|
OTTAWA ‚ÄĒ Eight days after Chinese authorities imprisoned Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, a senior Canadian foreign ministry official urged Canadian students to apply for a program to study in China.
Sarah Taylor, the director-general of the north-Asia bureau at Global Affairs Canada, made the pitch for the 45-year-old Canada-China Scholarship Exchange Program during a Dec. 18 event at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa.
‚ÄúMy department is proud to support the CCSEP and is eager to see a broader representation of Canadians from across the country, at the university and college level,‚ÄĚ Taylor said in prepared remarks released under Canada‚Äôs access-to-information law.
The government continues to promote the lucrative exchange program, which has a final application deadline of next Friday, even though it has elevated its travel advisory to China with a warning that Canadians are at ‚Äúrisk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.‚ÄĚ
David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said Taylor‚Äôs remarks might have been well-intended but Canada simply can‚Äôt continue to conduct business as usual with China.
‚ÄúIt sends the message to the Chinese that, no matter what we say, we want the relationship to continue as if nothing had happened. I simply can‚Äôt see us holding such an event with any other country if they were holding two of our citizens hostage,‚ÄĚ said Mulroney, who served as Canadian ambassador to China from 2009 and 2012.
Adam Austen, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Canada continues to call for the release of Kovrig and Spavor after their arbitrary detentions, but the exchange program is good for relations.
‚ÄúThese exchanges provide international academic experience to both Canadian and Chinese students and researchers ‚ÄĒ and foster co-operation between our two countries,‚ÄĚ he said.
Kovrig and Spavor were detained nine days after the RCMP arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States, which is seeking her extradition on fraud charges.
Nine days later, China detained former diplomat Kovrig and entrepreneur Spavor on allegations that they were endangering the country‚Äôs national security. China denies the arrests are retaliation for Meng‚Äôs detention.
Kovrig and Spavor have not been formally charged, have been denied access to a lawyer or family members, and are being granted only monthly access by Canadian diplomats. Meng has since been released on bail and is living in a Vancouver mansion.
There was little mention of the diplomatic dust-up at the Dec. 18 event at the Chinese Embassy, which was attended by a several dozen people, including leading Canadian academics and business leaders, as well as past students in the program.
‚ÄúWe are currently accepting applications from Canadians wishing to study, research or pursue language-training in China during the 2019-2020 academic year. I encourage you to share this opportunity with your respective networks so they can apply before the deadline on March 1, 2019,‚ÄĚ Taylor said.
At this particularly sensitive period, however, if I were a Canadian citizen I would be cautious about travelling in China or studying abroad there
Taylor said that strong ‚Äúpeople-to-people connections have been the bedrock of our dynamic bilateral relationship‚ÄĚ and that both countries view ‚Äúeducation co-operation‚ÄĚ as a strategic priority.
‚ÄúAnd that priority is easy to see. China is Canada‚Äôs most important source of international students with more than 140,000 Chinese students on campuses of Canadian institutions,‚ÄĚ she said, adding that Chinese nationals account for more than one-quarter of Canada‚Äôs international student population.
Canada‚Äôs continued engagement with China on the education exchange is indicative of its ‚Äúnational myopia‚ÄĚ in relation to the People‚Äôs Republic, said Mulroney.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not our fault that China has made it riskier for scholars to work there, nor should we be so eager to contribute to the fiction that it‚Äôs business as usual,‚ÄĚ he added. ‚ÄúTo get our future engagement of China right, we‚Äôre going to have to change things, and see the relationship in entirely new ways. That‚Äôs really hard to do, but it‚Äôs absolutely necessary.‚ÄĚ
Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said she has never opposed government scholarships for study in China.
‚ÄúAt this particularly sensitive period, however, if I were a Canadian citizen I would be cautious about travelling in China or studying abroad there.‚ÄĚ
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