China's ambassador to Canada is telling Canadians to "not be blinded" by differences in the countries' stances on human rights, days after the Chinese foreign minister berated a journalist for raising the issue at a press conference.
Wang Yi, the first Chinese foreign minister to visit Canada in seven years, has taken heat for what's been called an undiplomatic response to a reporter's question on China's human rights record and the ongoing imprisonment of Canadian Kevin Garrett, who is charged with espionage.
Ambassador Luo Zhaohui weighed in on the controversy surrounding the visit in an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail on Sunday, touting China's "tremendous and universally recognized achievements in the protection and promotion of human rights."
Zhaohui conceded that China's human rights record wasn't perfect and added that the country was willing to discuss it, but dismissed "microphone diplomacy" as the right approach, adding that "it will only serve to mislead the public, adversely affect co-operation and harm both sides' interests.
"Finger-pointing is not a proper way to treat guests," he wrote.
'Your question is full of prejudice against China and arrogance.'
During a joint press conference with Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion last week, Wang responded to a question aimed at Dion from an iPolitics reporter on behalf of several other news organizations.
Wang appeared visibly irritated as he delivered a lengthy response, berating the journalist through a translator, suggesting that she not "ask questions in such an irresponsible manner," and adding that while the country welcomes "goodwill suggestions," they "reject groundless or unwarranted accusations."
"Your question is full of prejudice against China and arrogance," said Wang. "I don't know where that comes from. This is totally unacceptable."
He questioned the reporter's understanding of China and asked if she'd ever been there.
"Do you know that China has lifted more than 600 million people out of poverty? And do you know the China is now the second-largest economy in the world from a very low foundation?" he asked. "And do you know China has written protection and promotion of human rights into our constitution?"
"Other people don't know better than the Chinese people about the human rights condition in China and it is the Chinese people who are in the best situation, in the best position to have a say about China's human rights situation," he continued.
In his own response, Dion said that he had brought up Garatt's case to Wang and that the two had "honest and frank conversations on human rights and consular affairs."
The Canadian government stayed silent on the issue until Friday morning when Dion tweeted, thanking reporter Amanda Connelly for her questions and demonstrating what press freedom means.
"Calling for #humanrights anywhere is everyone's prerogative," he tweeted. "And your questions provided an immediate example, which I used in my meeting to highlight how important #humanrights are for Canadians."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later told reporters that the Canadian government had made their "dissatisfaction" known to both Wang and the ambassador of China to Canada -- "our dissatisfaction with the way our journalists were treated."
"The fact of the matter is freedom of the press is extremely important to me," he said, adding that he uses any meeting with representatives of the Chinese government to raise concerns about human rights in the country, as well as Garratt's case.
Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk