By Matthew Little
Epoch Times Staff Created: July 7, 2012 Last Updated: July 7, 2012
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird speaks with reporters on Parliament Hill June 11, 2012. Baird leaves for a two-week tour of several Asian countries Saturday. (Matthew Little/The Epoch Times)
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird heads to Asia Saturday for a two-week tour of several countries in hopes of “enhancing relations and advancing Canadian interests and Canadian values,” according to a statement.
Baird will begin his trip in Hong Kong, meeting with government officials and business leaders. He will then be in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on July 11 and 12 to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum and to co-chair the Canada-ASEAN ministerial meeting.
Baird will then visit Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, and Shanghai before returning to Canada on July 22.
The China portion of his trip comes amidst seismic upheaval within the regime as public unrest reaches record levels and key figures within the Chinese Communist Party who rose under former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin begin to be purged.
Those figures, known by some Chinese as the “bloody hands faction,” were central to Jiang’s crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual practice, which had wide popularity among China’s middle class before Jiang outlawed it and used the subsequent crackdown in part to test loyalties.
Figures who rose in the ensuing arrests and killings of Falun Gong practitioners included former Chinese commerce minister Bo Xilai and security chief Zhou Yongkong, two men who made a name for themselves with particularly brutal repressions of Falun Gong in the areas then under their purview.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper met Bo during his trip to China in February, just as Bo’s former right-hand man and top cop of Chongqing, Wang Lijun, attempted to defect to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, leading Epoch Times analysts to correctly predict Bo would soon fall from power.
High-level sources within the regime have repeatedly told The Epoch Times that current premier Wen Jianbao, with leader Hu Jintao’s backing, has succeeded in efforts to put Zhou under investigation. Well-placed sources in Beijing have also told The Epoch Times that there is a consensus among key Party leaders in the current and future leadership to redress Falun Gong and victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Besides major developments in China, Baird also faces a trying situation in the South China Sea.
In the statement released to the media, Baird’s office said at the ASEAN meetings Baird and his counterparts will discuss issues relating to the “Korean Peninsula, maritime security, economic prosperity, and the promotion of freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law around the world.”
Several ASEAN countries have been locked in a tense exchange with China over the regime’s claims on the South China Sea.
The regime’s aggressive territorial claims to the sea well beyond internationally accepted norms include the waters almost to the shorelines of Brunei, the Philippines, and other nations in the region. International conventions grant nations an exclusive economic territorial claim to sea waters off their shores for 200 nautical miles.
Baird has not taken questions on how he will deal with challenges facing Canadian relations in the region. Although Baird often takes questions from reporters before his international travels, this time he announced the trip at 5 p.m. Friday, when most reporters had left for the weekend.
In the statement released to the press, Baird argued for the necessity of maintaining strong relations with the region.
“The tides of global affairs are quickly and fundamentally changing, with profound implications,” said Baird. “Strong trade winds are swirling across the Asia-Pacific region, and Canada, as a Pacific nation, will be a major player in these exciting times.”
Baird said the trip aimed to balance trade interests with efforts to advocate for human rights and rule of law, key aspects of the Canada-ASEAN relationship.
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