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One Human-Rights Question Too Many for China’s Foreign Minister

The Wall Street Journal, 2 June 2016


By Brian Spegele – A top Chinese leader has a message for journalists everywhere: no more questions on human rights. Foreign Minister Wang Yi took a less-than-diplomatic tack in a press briefing in Ottawa on Wednesday, publicly criticizing a Canadian journalist who asked about international concern over human rights in China.

“Your question is full of prejudice against China and arrogance from where I don’t know,” said a visibly annoyed Mr. Wang. “I completely can’t accept it.”

Mr. Wang had hailed a “new golden age” of Canada-China relations during his visit to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but countered the journalist’s question at length, calling it “irresponsible.”

“Do you understand China? Have you ever been to China?” he said, adding that China’s government had lifted 600 million people out of poverty to become the world’s second biggest economy. “Do you think such development would be possible if China didn’t protect human rights?”

The foreign minister wasn’t finished.

“I’ll tell you: You are not the one who knows best about the human rights situation in China. Chinese people are.” Mr. Wang said. “You don’t have a say in this matter; only Chinese people do.”

China has increasingly been criticized by the U.S. and other countries over a broad crackdown targeting rights activists, lawyers and civil-society advocates.

Moves that have drawn international attention include recently passed legislation granting police greater authority to supervise foreign non-governmental organizations, including rights groups.

Strong words such as Mr. Wang’s are unusual from a top Chinese leader, particularly on foreign soil. But it isn’t the first time a Chinese leader has gone on the offensive against probing reporters. In 2000, then-President Jiang Zemin famously berated a group of Hong Kong journalists as “too simple, sometimes naive.”

Chinese leaders are also no strangers to questions on human rights, a topic raised by journalists nearly every time leaders take part in news conferences overseas. For instance, President Xi Jinping last year said, during a visit to the U.K., that China, like other countries, had room to improve on human rights.

Mr. Wang, for his part, said China was open to suggestions made in good faith, but that he believed the reporter’s question had no basis.

“So, I’d like to ask you, please don’t ask questions in such an irresponsible manner again,” Mr. Wang said.

During the press conference, a journalist asked Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion to respond to concerns about treatment of human-rights advocates, citing the recent cases of detained Hong Kong booksellers and a Canadian couple who were held on allegations of espionage.

After Mr. Dion responded, China’s Mr. Wang said he, too, wanted to address the question about human rights in China, before beginning his lengthy criticism, according to multiple Canadian media accounts.