Canada's ambassador expects China to change Syria stance

Canada's ambassador to China expects to see a change in Chinese foreign policy that could help the United Nations intervene to stop more bloodshed in Syria.

Canada in group effort to convince China to drop policy of non-interference with Syria

Canada's ambassador to China, David Mulroney, guides Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird during a visit to the Chinese Foreign Ministry and meetings with Baird's Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, last summer. Mulroney believes China is moving away from its doctrine of non-interference in international conflicts, which could help end the crisis in Syria. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

Canada's ambassador to China expects to see a change in Chinese foreign policy that could help the United Nations intervene to stop more bloodshed in Syria.

In an interview with guest host James Fitz-Morris airing Saturday morning on CBC Radio's The House, David Mulroney said Canadians "need to see, and we expect to see, change in the way China engages the broader world."

"[Chinese] foreign policy has up until now focused largely on a doctrine of non-interference. That clearly isn't something that is particularly helpful or effective when we're facing a regime like Syria's," Mulroney said, calling on China to join the international community in "committed action."

The United Nations estimates at least 14,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011, when an uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began. Activists put the death toll at several thousand higher than that, offering shocking reports of violence by government forces against not only rebel fighters, but also civilians, including women and very young children.

While sanctions and other diplomatic efforts have been underway for months, China and Russia as permanent members of the UN's Security Council have blocked efforts for the UN to intervene to a greater extent to stop the violence.

Mulroney acknowledged it has been difficult for Canada, as well as other countries, to convince the Chinese to engage on Syria.

"This is a process," he said, suggesting China "isn't perhaps as comfortable with it as it needs to be as it becomes the world's second economic power ... [and] an increasingly influential actor in its region."

Earlier this month, Syria announced its candidacy for the UN's Human Rights Council in 2014. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called it a "sick joke."

However, while Baird has condemned publicly Russia's role in perpetuating the Syrian conflict, Canada has been more reserved when it comes to criticizing the Chinese.

China changing fast

Mulroney spoke optimistically to CBC Radio about the shift underway in China on many fronts, and the excellent relations Canada now enjoys with the Chinese regime, following a rockier start earlier in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's tenure.

"It takes time in any relationship to get it right," he said.  "We've invested a lot of time in getting the mechanisms right, getting the conversations right, and I've been following the relationship for 25 years and I've rarely seen it more balanced."

Mulroney touted several examples of recent economic and trade success stories between the two countries, such as the foreign investment agreement and preliminary trade talks heralded during Harper's tour of China last winter.

The ambassador, who is set to end his posting in Beijing at the end of this year, touted Canada's approach of listening respectfully instead of lecturing when it comes to human rights concerns.

"[Human rights] are always part of what senior Canadian leaders ... talk about with China," he said. [It's] a big part of what we do as an embassy."

Mulroney spoke of his team's recent efforts to reach out to the Chinese "on many levels," including new uses of social media and engagements with civil society groups such as students or lawyers. Mulroney said he has had the opportunity to discuss topics like how the rule of law and religious freedom work in Canada.

"One of the encouraging things about China is that there are constituencies for change," he said. "Part of our job is to reach out to those people and to encourage them."