Your Secrets Might Not Be Safe With Justin Trudeau!
Asharq Al-Awsat, London, November 16
The televised altercation between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G-20 summit opens up a philosophical debate. The Chinese premier accused the Canadian prime minister of leaking the details of a private meeting that took place between the two men, in an exceptionally frank glimpse of Xi’s interactions with other world leaders. Xi was caught on video confronting Trudeau, saying, “It’s inappropriate and that’s not the way we agreed to have our conversation, is it?” Trudeau replied, “In Canada, we believe in free, open and frank dialogue, and this is what we will continue to do.” What we are witnessing is a collision between two worldviews; between one system of values and an opposing one; between East and West. There are many manifestations of this tension but let us focus on freedom of information and the right of the public to obtain information. According to the Western formulation of this concept, securing access to information is a duty owed to the individual by governments, and the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, stipulates the individual’s right to expression and access to information. Most Western constitutions and laws guarantee this right, and there are countries that have established clear protocols for the disclosure of information, even if it is not requested, to the public. Over the past 50 years, the US Freedom of Information Act, has allowed Americans and others to request records on almost any topic from the federal government, and forced federal agencies to provide them. Of course, information classified as “confidential” is not disclosed. Indeed, US censorship laws provide that an entire century must pass for some of these records to be published. Indeed, according to the US State Department, in the past few years, the CIA has declassified documents related to World War I, including a document related to the components of secret ink. Yes, the Chinese system is an opaque and centralized system of government that glorifies one single individual and concentrates knowledge, information, and power within his own hands. But is there a middle ground? A policy that falls somewhere between China’s withholding of information and Canada’s complete disclosure of it? Finding that balance is, perhaps, our most important task. –Meshary Al-Dhaidi (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)