Transcript of Ambassador H.E. Lu Shaye's Interview with Ottawa Life Magazine

On August 23, Ambassador Lu Shaye met in the Chinese Embassy with Mr. Dan Donovan, Publisher and Managing Editor of Ottawa Life Magazine, and received his interview. The transcript of the meeting and the interview is as follows:

Lu Shaye: Welcome to the Embassy.

Dan: Thank you.

Lu Shaye: I am glad to meet you and exchange views with you on questions of common concern.

Dan: I am pleased to meet you. I've been publishing this magazine for 20 years, and I took a leave for 5 years to a very large global company called Magna International. We got operations in China. Very fascinating with the Chinese, but particularly fascinating with you, you've made a big impact since you arrived. People taking notice of you and some of your remarks which I was very interested in.

I have many colleagues in government, and in national media here and I'd like to think that I am fairly informed about China-Canada matters. But I'd like to ask you from my personal curiosity about some of your comments you made and try to understand your perspective.

So one thing you said when you were speaking to the Canadian Press was fascinating. And I was looking at your background, and you are a policy person, and you worked at the epicenter of policy in China. So my thinking would be that, I always noticed the Chinese are very precise. So when you say something, there's usually reason behind it. And the impression I got and many my colleagues in government and media got after you made those remarks was that, you are saying that in terms of relations between our countries, we have to separate trade and development vs. social issues as human rights and these types of things.

So that's the first part of the question. At some point I am curious as to why other countries when they, we go out China for example, we say you have human rights issues, and you do, but so do we. Is it a difficult thing? I sensed the frustration in you that some Canadians and government people seemed to be very judgemental when they deal with the Chinese about those things. Would that be accurate?

Long question (smile). Before you answer, respectfully, can I also add one thing for context? The reason I ask this question is, because as a Canadian, I see our government, and I used to be in government, I used to work for former Prime Minister, you know, by seeing it doing this…but we have our problems here with our first nation people. We have a lot of problems here, we have our former supreme court justice who has said that what happened to our aboriginal people in residential schools was a cultural genocide. We are signatory to the International Treaty on Torture but we have cases of hundreds of people who have been kept in solitary confinement, one case in northern Ontario for 4 years. So if Canada is gonna ask these things, but I noticed that the Chinese and most other governments we do this to, they never respond by saying "What about you?" And is that appropriate? I am just curious of your… Ambassador Shaye's frustration, but I noticed you didn't point out some of our foibles.

Lu Shaye: It's about the different cultures between China and Canada. People should be modest and respectful to others according to Chinese traditional culture. We have an old saying: Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you. It's against our will to impose our views on others. We would like to present our views, but it's up to you to decide whether to take it. We will not force others to accept something, nor will we be forced to accept something by others. Canada which belongs to western culture is so different from China that is part of oriental culture. Through my experience of dealing with westerners, I feel sometimes the westerners, thinking they are always correct, are fond of lecturing people and teaching others how to do. Maybe in western cultural origins there is dualism, black or white, insisting there's but one truth, which if I possess, and if your opinion is different from mine, you will stand on the opposite side of the truth. While Chinese are different. We don't think it's a black-or-white world. We think things can be like this and at the same time like that. Due to 500 years of capitalism development and the modernization of their economy and society, the westerners think they are superior to other nations and are qualified to teach other countries to follow suit. These are the western culture concept and western countries' way of doing things in international society that I sensed. As to the specific question of human rights issue, what China opposes is western countries' fancying themselves as preachers demanding others to do this or that. That's also why I stress many times in my dialogues with Canadian media that human rights issue should be discussed separately from economic and trade issues. Because east and west have different criterion of value on human rights issue, whose criterion should we use to judge human rights situation? Western countries' or China's? It's a question without a fixed answer. Rather than quarreling this futilely and delaying the FTA negotiation, it is better to put aside this question and focus on discussing the free trade deal. The reason I didn't touch upon human rights violation cases in past and present Canada is not because I didn't know them, but because I am not willing to drag the skeleton out of its closet based on Chinese cultural traditions.

Dan: So I have an observation. There's a view in media circles, for example, in national media circles in Canada, and certainly in the government that 2 years ago (Editor's note: it was last June actually) when the Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister visited and he was speaking about the new silk road and the development in China. He gave a press conference at Foreign Affairs (Ministry), and at one point he admonished the Canadian media. Many people felt that because Stéphane Dion, our Foreign Minister didn't respond appropriately to that, and that's why he was moved. They said he was weak. Because there's a very strong Chinese foreign affairs minister in, and our minister responded very weakly to his comments, to the press. So I am just wondering if you are aware of that.

Lu Shaye: So the Canadian media thought Foreign Minister Wang Yi overreacted. But do they remember that in 2015 a Chinese correspondent who was visiting arctic region with then Prime Minister Harper wanted to raise a question at the Prime Minister's press conference, but was refused, stopped and dragged out of the scene? Is that how the Canadian side treat journalists? Is that normal?

Dan: Just share the personal view, 'cause I am trying to provide my own observation.

Lu Shaye: This is how the two sides see the relevant question differently. The Canadian side got annoyed just because Chinese Foreign Minister merely made a fairly strong response to a Canadian journalist's human rights question, whereas the Chinese journalist even didn't have the right to raise questions. Wasn't that a violation on human rights?

I have a principle when talking with media that how to raise questions is your business, but how to answer is mine. I don't interfere journalists' rights to raise questions, and at the same time, journalists are not in the position to let off steam to how I answer them. According to my observation, sometimes Canadian media, like other western media, often raise questions unscrupulously, regardless of relevant country's specific situation and interviewee's feelings. But they will fly into a rage and stamp with fury when the answers they get are not quite the same with their values and feelings. They think it's normal for themselves to criticize others and abnormal and "overreacting" for others to criticize back. Some media, public figures and politicians preach multi-culture and inclusiveness all day long, but in fact when it comes to the specific questions they forget all those and are not willing to listen to different voices and tolerate other values.

Dan: I would say that's very perceptive and it's ironic and it's very true. it's something that I am fascinated by what the Chinese are doing. It's a fair question because to do things here, you know China is doing great things in Canada, of course, and business, and otherwise. But you have to navigate these things. In China, you've build a high speed train 400 miles per hour in 3 years. Excellent example. It's incredible. Our country is the same size geographically, pretty close. But obviously your population (other)wise are 100 times more than than us, more than 100 times. So you have expertise moving people. What I mean is that China has its incredible ingenuity and is able to move people with technology and trains like no other country. It's amazing. We have a big problem with that. Windsor to Quebec City Corridor, high speed train, talked about 3 years. China can do that with their eyes closed. But in Canada, the most important people in that debate are not the people building the trains. It's not the government, and it's not the media, it's the unions. On China, on Chinese business and the human rights component, the biggest advocate of the human rights agenda in Canada towards other countries is from the unions. The big unions, they are about labor standards, what they perceive as human rights. So I am just curious when you are here, 'cause what you say makes a lot of sense to me, frankly, but when you're here, will you meet with the president of the Canadian Labor Congress? Will you meet with the head of the UFCW, will you meet with the other union leaders, very important people in our country, very very important people. Because I think they are looking to understand China more. And they would love I am sure to understand you more. And also it's in their interest to build trains. They have workers, you know what, because what you said makes a lot of sense, but when you say to the press, they get interpreted what you say, and maybe what you are saying is not what the union leaders are hearing.

Lu Shaye: China is capable of building large scale infrastructure projects. Chinese government always makes scientific and right decisions based on consideration of social and economic development, and people's welfare and fundamental common interests, and on thorough investigation of the will of the people and the need of the society. Once the decision is made, we work on it with all our strength. That's why we build large scale infrastructure projects so quickly. It took us only 3 years to build the 1400 km Beijing-Shanghai express railway. Of course there will always be opponent voices and it's our job to analyze if they are reasonable and correct. If they are not, and if they are against the fundamental and long-term interests of the majority of the people, we should not be affected by them. This is the Chinese way of doing things, but I am not in the position to transplant it to Canada. Canadians will make their own choice. At present there's no large scale infrastructure projects going on between China and Canada, so it's not that urgent for me to persuade Canadian unions. That I'm afraid is more of Canadian government's job. But if there's an opportunity, I am willing to talk with the union leaders. Canada has its own national conditions and ways of doing things, and I am not in the position to judge if it's good or bad. What I can say is that China's current system, pattern and practice are effective and in line with China's reality. Labor standards, it's one of westerners' favorite topics. In fact, they just want other countries to follow suit. If developing countries adopt west standards such as their workers' salary, working hours, etc., there will be no way for them to develop anymore. That's because developing countries haven't reached developed countries' level. It's not because China doesn't want its workers to enjoy high salary and high welfare like Canadian workers, it's because we cannot afford it at the present stage. China, though the second biggest economy in the world, has a population of 1.4 billion people whereas Canada only has the population of 36 million people. Per Capita GDP in China is only 8,000 USD, but Per Capita GDP in Canada is 40,000 USD. So it's unreasonable to talk about labor standards regardless of countries' conditions. It's only a shield certain people use to excuse themselves from screwing up the economy.

Dan: Well the first thing I'd say is I've taken the most of your time, so I am not gonna take much more. But I would like to make an observation. I think, first of all, very fascinating, and very helpful to me as we continue to write about China, and we will continue to do that. Our China series in the magazine are actually very popular, and I would encourage the Ambassador to keep speaking candidly, to people while you're here, because I think it's refreshing and helpful. When you speak, when China says something, the Canada people listen. And I think people are fascinated for example on the train thing. People hear they build that high speed train in China, everyday people here say: why can't we do that? And they look at it differently. They say here wow, if we are supposed to be this developed country, we are supposed to have all this technology, why can't we do that? So when you say that, people listen. That's the first point.

The second point is that, we feel that our magazine is very important, especially because we're in the capital. To explain only right things, to explain things from this Chinese perspective. To my people what you say, it's different way of seeing things, different way of coming at things. And I think it's a very powerful thing when you say that to people. Because it's frankly not always the tradition with a lot of countries to do that. And especially because China is so important to our economic affairs. And people in government here have preset notions about what China is or how China should behave, which sounds quite arrogant, but they do. Here's the way you've talked about these things, challenging the people here to think. You know we have trade issues with the United States. The canola market from Canada is very important to China, agriculture is very important for our people here. Softwood lumber, energy…so we are writing about these things in our magazine. And Chinese perspective on these things is very very important to our readers. So when you make a comment about that, a lot of people are interested.

Lu Shaye: I quite agree with some of your views, namely, candid introduction of China's situation to Canadian people is conducive for them to get a better understanding about China. As a matter of fact, I've been taking it as one of my priorities since I arrived here. I found my several frank communications with the Canadian media have caused some repercussions in the Canadian society, with a lot of friends like you giving me encouragement, and many people, including netizens and local Canadians I met during my tours in provinces, agreeing with me. Meanwhile there are critical voices. It is quite normal to hear different opinions, which means people have listened, whereas silence means a sort of failure. As you mentioned, it is important to clarify China's position on issues of Canadians' concern, to tell the good stories about bilateral cooperation. Unfortunately, media seldom report these good stories.

Dan: The press has the tendency to do that. But I made the point that it's important that people here understand the Chinese point of view. And we are very pleased and privileged to carry it in our magazine. And I extend that invitation to you, Ambassador Shaye, that if at anytime, you would like to write an op-ed to our readers, I am happy to publish it. And I think people would be very interested in you and what you have to say. And people in foreign affairs too, they look for things, and they hope to understand the perspective. And I think the most hopeful thing I come out of here today is the very important insight into you thinking, which to me, sounds very reasonable. And we want to share that in our magazine with our readers.

Lu Shaye: I also hope to introduce and convey to the Canadian public my observations and thinkings, as well as the situation in China through your magazine. What we want to see is that through frank communication people will be able to know a real China, rather than a China in media. Of course, it's my further wish that Canadian people see China with their own eyes. I encourage more and more Canadians to go to China, for tourism, study or business. My experience with Canadians proves that people's impression on China will not be that bad as long as they have been there. "Seeing is believing", "The facts speak louder than words". China's achievements speak for themselves, and can not be obliterated. How can China develop so well if there's no democracy, human rights and freedom? If one insists that there is no democracy, human rights and freedom in China even it has made great achievements, then we can draw a conclusion that a country can develop without democracy, human rights and freedom defined by the West. The norms of democracy, human rights and freedoms defined by the West are not universally applicable, and each country determines its own goals of democracy, human rights and freedom according to its own national conditions. Therefore it is meaningless to argue over democracy and human rights issues. If there is any universal value, then as one of my Chinese friends put it, reform and opening up is the universal value. No country can develop without reform and opening up. Only we make constant reforms on systems, institutions and technologies can we keep pace with the times. If you ask me which country is the best carrying forward successful reforms, I am not bragging, I will tell you that country is China. From the year of 1978, even we can say from the year of 1949, China has been constantly seeking reforms. The purpose of the reform is not to westernise China, but to make the country more suitable for economic and social development, and to better keep up with the world trends.

Dan: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much. I found this meeting absolutely fascinating, and it's been very helpful to the work I am doing. I really appreciate your insight, and it's not only given me some more ideas for what we are writing about, but your perspective is very very helpful. I just want you to know that with regards to our magazine, we see it as our role in this series we've been doing on China to bring forward these things, like to explain to our readers what you say. You know I am a student of history so I am aware of the incredible achievements China made. It's unbelievable. Thank you for seeing me.

Lu Shaye: It's been nice discussing with you. Thank you.