How to ask China about human rights: Dos and don’ts for Trudeau

There’s one question Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can be certain reporters will ask him on his first official trip to China this week.

“Did you bring up human rights?”

And it won’t stop there.

“Did you bring up human rights forcefully enough? Frequently enough? Are you putting trade before human rights?”

Journalists have asked variations of these questions for decades, grasping for some way to ensure politicians aren’t abandoning principle as they try to build ties to countries, such as China, with a record of high-profile human rights abuses.

Reporters might be asking about a Canadian who has been detained or referring to broader questions about how the country treats its citizens.

Either way, reporters often find the answer to “the human rights question” wildly unsatisfying. The answer is inevitably some variation of “Yes, of course,” without much sense of the intensity or efficacy of the discussion.

So, what really happens behind closed doors?

Trudeau G20 20151116

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Chinese President Xi Jinping for bi-lateral meeting at the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey last November. (Canadian Press)

Avoiding ultimatums

Trudeau leaves Monday for a week-long tour, where he’ll try to expand Canada’s economic relationship with China.

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