Human rights: Quebec premier doesn't have lessons for China on trade trip

SHANGHAI – Quebec’s premier doesn’t intend to lecture his Chinese hosts about human rights while on his trade mission to the country.

Philippe Couillard says he won’t focus on the issue during talks with communist leaders in a country that has come under criticism for rights violations.

Couillard made the comments in his first meeting with reporters since arriving in Shanghai.

The delicate topic of human rights often haunts Canadian leaders when they visit China, as they try to balance the defence of human rights with the goal of strengthening ties with the economic powerhouse.

Couillard is part of a trade mission that includes Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz, along with a number of businesses and economic development groups.

The three premiers will join forces Wednesday in Beijing in an effort to boost trade with China, Canada’s second-biggest trading partner.

The Council of the Federation, which represents the premiers, says it will be the third such trade mission to China.

On Sunday, Couillard said he was “concerned” about human rights in China, but added he was in the country mostly to talk about greater “investment and collaboration.”

Couillard said it’s important to tread lightly, since China has its own unique culture and has changed a lot in recent years.

“I don’t think you need to give lessons when visiting other countries. You have to listen to the point of view of your hosts on these questions. And we must also realize the tremendous progress that has been made in China in the last 25-30 years,” he said.

“You have to see it also in the context of Chinese civilization, which is a very ancient civilization, where things are moving, but they move at their own pace.”

As well, Couillard said China could play a major role in Quebec’s economic growth.

“We need to bring in capital, we need private investment in Quebec, and there is a lot of capital available here in China and there’s interest in investing it,” he said.

Besides attracting Chinese investment, Couillard said he wants to generate interest in Quebec exports. Quebec exports to China have jumped 130 per cent since 2009 and now total $2.6 billion annually.

The Quebec delegation totals nearly 150 people, with representatives mostly from the business sector but also from educational and cultural fields.

Couillard said Quebec could learn a lot from China, especially in the context of how to combine economic development while managing such a complex country.

“We have a much less complex country… imagine here, in a country of 1.3 billion people, the challenge of ensuring harmonious development, and encouraging greater social equality.”