HONG KONG — CHINA has marred months of painstaking propaganda on human rights by forcibly expelling three Canadian legislators investigating the plight of dissidents in Beijing.
The forced departures on Tuesday have rattled Sino-Canadian relations. Barbara McDougall, Canada's secretary of state for external affairs, said the incident affirmed how China has failed to improve its human rights record.
"I am particularly offended at this affront to the institution of Parliament and the treatment of democratically elected representatives of the Canadian people," Ms. McDougall said in Ottawa.
The lawmakers said Wednesday in Hong Kong that Canada should make its aid and trade with China contingent on a steady easing of restrictions on citizens' freedoms. They called on the Bush administration to adopt the same policy.
The expulsions contradicted 13 months of unprecedented tolerance by Beijing toward foreign interest in the treatment of basic liberties in China.
Beijing has kept human rights delegations from several countries under surveillance since late 1990 and has harassed some. But it had allowed most of the groups to meet with officials and engage in discreet fact finding.
Moreover, Beijing last year handed down comparatively lenient sentences for most of the best known activists in the Tiananmen movement. Also, the State Council, or Cabinet, released a long paper on Nov. 1 that lashes out at foreign critics but acknowledges that China could improve its human rights record.
China assured US Secretary of State James Baker III in November that it will establish a permanent desk at the Foreign Ministry for human rights consultations. US diplomats hailed the move as a crucial first step for a gradual and deliberate improvement in how Beijing handles the basic freedoms of its citizens.
For decades, Chinese officials categorically rejected all discussions on human rights, saying foreign concern on the issue constituted interference in China's internal affairs.
Dissidents in China and human rights groups, however, say the moves merely represent a change in style necessitated by China's dependence on trade and investment with the industrialized democracies. There has been no substantive change in policy; hundreds of liberal protesters remain jailed throughout the country and Beijing continues to deny citizens basic liberties, they say.
The rough handling of the Canadian delegation appears to bolster the assertions of China's critics.
Chinese police detained and expelled the Canadian parliamentarians more than a day after they had met with Hao Xiaotian, the wife of jailed dissident Wang Juntao. The group intended to lay a wreath at the grave of Wen Jie, a student activist in the 1989 Tiananmen protests who died late last year shortly after his release from prison.
The five-day visit, scheduled to end yesterday, was sponsored in part by the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs, a body under the Foreign Ministry. A ministry official said the lawmakers were rejected for "engaging in activities incompatible with their status in China."
Upon his arrival in Hong Kong Tuesday with other members of the Canadian delegation, Svend Robinson said he and fellow lawmaker Geoff Scott were "manhandled" by police and "thrown into the bus" that took them to the airport.
"If that is the kind of human rights that the Chinese can demonstrate to legislators ... then God help the people of China who have to live under that regime," Mr. Scott said on Tuesday.
"Aid and trade with China should be tied to human rights," he said at a press conference on Wednesday.
Secretary of State McDougall said "this incident confirms the validity of the emphasis we have placed on human rights in our dealings with China."
Western diplomats suggested that China's zealous security apparatus might have acted against the wishes of the Foreign Ministry. Still, they could not find a clear rationale for the coarse treatment of the lawmakers. "There's apparently no rational justification, and Beijing ultimately just ends up hurting itself," said one Western diplomat in Hong Kong on condition on anonymity.