ARMCHAIR MAYOR - A letter from the mayor of Kamloops to the mayor of Changping


District of Changping

Beijing, China

Dear Mr. Mayor:

Greetings from Kamloops. I hope all is well with your family, and that Changping continues to prosper. Here in Kamloops, we are experiencing a very hot early summer after a cold winter and very cool spring.

As the year progresses, we look forward to continuing the warm relationship between Kamloops and Changping, and to discussing the action plan that will continue moving us forward under the protocols we signed in 2005.

The unique agreement between the City of Kamloops and the District of Changping puts us both in a unique position to co-operate for mutual benefit in identifying economic opportunities. During these difficult economic times, this is more important than ever.

We are both aware, you and I, of the importance of a strong political relationship between our two governments in order to facilitate business-to-business arrangements.

That political relationship remains strong, going back to the almost two years of meetings and discussions our two governments had prior to the signing of the protocols, and to the visits of delegations to each other's cities since then.

If that relationship is to continue to be healthy and vibrant, we must build upon the mutual trust we currently enjoy. And that trust, Mr. Mayor, must include a respect for each other in the way we care for our people.

Canada has many problems. Our history includes unfortunate mistreatment of peoples that we are trying very hard to rectify. None of it, though, compares even remotely with the monstrous abuse of the Chinese people by a succession of your leaders, most notably the atrocities committed by Chairman Mao Tse Tung, who was responsible for the starvation, torture and murder of millions of innocent Chinese.

While your country has demonstrated admirable progress both in economic reform and in human rights in more recent years, there remains much to be done.

Many fundamental freedoms are still violated, including the most important, freedom of expression. This week is the 20th anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square, in which the cry for democracy was stifled in a most cruel way. Up to 3,000 people were killed simply because your national government did not wish to tolerate dissent.

In our country, freedom to disagree with government is essential to our democratic way of life. Our delegations to Changping have taken the opportunity to visit Tiananmen Square because it is a symbol of the vast difference in principles between our country and yours.

It is with a deep sadness that we have walked this huge, beautiful plaza and realized that, two decades ago, people were being crushed by tanks in that exact place.

Even today, your people are prohibited from talking about what happened at Tiananmen Square, or even learning about it. We urge you to relent, to tell your national leaders that it's time to take up the cause of human rights, to complete the journey that has been such a struggle through China's long history.

We are thankful that we're able to express this to you, in the knowledge that such dialogue is desirable between friends, and we're confident it will help rather than hinder the way in which we do business together.

We look forward to many more years of friendship and mutual benefit, and to visiting with each other again this year.


Mayor Peter Milobar

On behalf of Kamloops City Council

That letter, of course, hasn't been written, and won't be. There's a great fear that raising human rights concerns with China on any level damages the prospects for business. Stephen Harper is blamed for the fact that Canada does not yet have preferred destination status for Chinese travellers because he had the nerve to talk about human rights.

Yet, isn't there an opportunity here that's being missed? More than five years after opening discussions with Changping, the relationship between it and Kamloops is still building but there's no doubt it is solid.

There are few ways in which human rights can be tactfully raised, but doing it through local government contacts may be one of them. We're at the grassroots level here, where people don't just sign deals, they become friends. There is genuine warmth between Kamloops and Changping.

Friends should be honest with each other. They should be able to criticize each other without being resentful. Of course, that works both ways, and we'd have to be willing to take it as well as dish it out.

If we could score a breakthrough at this level, it could be the most effective impetus available to encourage progress in human rights in a country that is so vast, so populated, and moving so quickly in many respects that the average Canadian can't imagine it.

Culturally, there are many barriers to such an approach. Yes, there is risk. Certainly, firing off a letter to the mayor is not the most subtle way of doing it; there are better channels open to us.

But isn't it worth trying? There may be no better value in Kamloops going out to the world than making the cause of human rights part of the package.

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