The Globe and Mail - Friday 19,1995
COMMENTARY - WORLD VIEW
REBUFFING HANOI OVER A STATUE
Obsessed by economic matters almost to the exclusion of everything else, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his Liberals have been retreating on international human-rights issues since they came to office in 1993. Despite their gutsy talk while in opposition about linking trade and other economic matters to performance on human rights, in office they rarely under and unpleasant word about any regime, however automatic or authoritarian, if there is a chance of doing business and making a few bucks.
It’s a mean, dog-eat-dog world out there and Canada has to make deals wherever possible, Mr. Chretien and Trade Minister Roy MacLaren seem to be saying. Or, as Foreign Affair Minister Andre Ouellet put it recently, for a country such as Canada “to try a Boy Scout on your own…is absolutely counterproductive and does not lead to any successful future.”
But finally, after many of us old Scouts had just about given up hope, we find there is still a flicker of old-fashioned Canadian decency and self-respect burning in a secret corner of official Ottawa.This discovery results from a diplomatic protest by the government of Vietnam. The Southeast Asian country is struggling to put its loony Communist economics and ideology behind it, rebuild infrastructure after a devastating war and open its markets to international trade and investment
Vietnam’s prospects are good. It could well become another of Asia’s economic miracles in the next five to 10 years.
Certainly the Liberal government thinks so. Prime Minister Chretien made a special trip there with a high-powered trade delegation last year to preside at the opening of a new Canadian Embassy in Hanoi. Trade Minister MacLaren, a former diplomat who served in Vietnam during the war, speaks highly of the prospects for Canadian enterprises willing to deal with the Vietnamese.
However, old habits die hard in that country. And so the Hanoi regime took great exception to the fact that the Vietnamese immigrant community in Canada erected a statue in Ottawa to commemorate the refugees who fled from Vietnam two decades ago.
It’s a stunningly evocative work of art by Toronto sculptor PHAM THE TRUNG. The bronze statue depicts a barefoot woman fleeing some unseen danger with her baby in her arms. The theme, sadly, is universal. Whether it’s in Rwanda or Bosnia in 1990s, or the old French colonies of Indochina 20 years ago, most of the world’s hundreds of millions of refugees in this century have been women and children.OTTAWA Mayor Jackie Holzman attended the unveiling ceremony last month. Mr. Chretien and Ontario Premier Bob Rae sent congratulatory messages to the Vietnamese – Canadian community in Ottawa.
The Vietnamese Embassy threw a fit. The Hanoi regime takes great exception to the suggestion that there was any good reason for refugees to flee Vietnam for Canada and other countries when the Communist rulers of the North captured the South 20 years ago.
Vietnamese diplomats tried to halt the statue’s unveiling, and were rebuffed by the federal government officials told the Embassy that things don’t work that way in Canada and that the government could not stop its citizens from paying for and erecting statues even if it wanted to, so forget it.
The upshot of the incident is that Secretary of State for Asian Affairs Raymond Chan postponed a trade trip to Vietnam that had been scheduled for this month. Undoubtedly it will be rescheduled.
The Hanoi regime overestimated the influence it felt it could exert on Ottawa, but the mistake was understandable in light of the message the Liberals have been giving other regimes. Mr. Chretien kowtowed in China last year. And Ottawa’s protestations about the Russian army’s slaughter of civilians in Chechnya this past winter were barely audible.
Some of us old Scouts want to believe that the Vietnamese – refugee statue flap marks a turning point, and that we will soon here Liberals talking once again about human rights and trade in the same breath. It’s time for good Liberal Scouts to get out some of the merit badges earned in opposition and wear them proudly once more.