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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Canada's China Policy

August 28, 2008

The problem, analysts say, is that the Conservative government has no
policy. 'In China, Canada is seen as a country unwilling to engage'
Chris Cobb
Canwest News Service
August 27, 2008

Jean Chretien struck a political nerve in Ottawa, and got front-page
coverage in Beijing, when he accused the Harper government of
destroying Canada's relations with China.

Chretien, who has long-established business interests in China, was
specifically critical of Harper's snub of the Olympic Games and of
the government's granting of honorary Canadian citizenship to
Beijing's Tibetan nemesis, the Dalai Lama.

But the Conservatives' rapid-response team sidestepped the
substantive question: Is Chretien correct?

Wenran Jiang, one of Canada's foremost China-watchers, says Chretien
has had a consistent position on China since the day he became prime minister.

"It's cynical to say that Chretien is criticizing Harper because he
has post-retirement China business ties," he says. "He has been
consistent from the beginning and many of the most effective Chinese
human rights issues were solved under the Liberal government."

But while it's true that Beijing is disappointed that Harper did not
attend the Games, and angry at the Conservative government for
granting the Dalai Lama honorary citizenship, both events are only
symptoms of a larger Canadian problem with the Chinese.

In short, he says, the problem with Canada's China policy is that
there isn't one.

"Harper has not been able or willing to engage in summit diplomacy
with China since he came to power," says Jiang, acting director of
the University of Alberta's China Institute. "That's extremely
abnormal and makes Canada the only industrialized country not to
engage China. Canada is way out of the picture and, the Chretien
debate aside, this is a bigger problem for the Harper government and
for Canada."

Harper has not visited China since he became prime minister in 2006,
although the country is now Canada's second-largest trading partner
after the United States.

According to Statistics Canada, trade between Canada and China in
2006 was $42.2 billion, with $34.5 billion of that in goods imported
from China into Canada. Last year, the total trade was estimated to
be worth about $50 billion, with Canada's trade deficit with China
continuing to grow.

According to Jiang, there are several reasons why Canada has been
neglecting its China relationship: The Harper Conservatives' focus on
preserving their minority government, poor ministerial leadership at
the Department of Foreign Affairs and influential anti-Chinese
government voices within the Conservative caucus - notably secretary
of state for multiculturalism and key Harper adviser Jason Kenney,
one of the loudest critics of Chretien's comments this week.
(Kenney's chief of staff, Tenzin Dargyal Khangsar, a former
businessman of Tibetan heritage, was executive director of the Canada
Tibet Committee, a human rights group).

"They don't feel it's important to engage China and they don't feel
they are being punished because of it," adds Jiang. "That's a
terrible mistake. We're losing ground in many ways. Party politics
has trumped national interest."

Fen Hampson, director of Carleton University's Norman Paterson School
for international Affairs, says Chretien exaggerated the importance
of Harper's non-attendance at the Olympic Games and the bestowing of
the Dalai Lama's honorary citizenship.

"Other G8 leaders didn't attend," he says, "and others have honoured
the Dalai Lama - George W. Bush gave him the Medal of Freedom. He has
been wined and dined and recognized by G8 heads of government. It's a
way of keeping up the pressure."

Hampson agrees that under the Harper government, Canada has not has
not had a strategically well-crafted policy toward China, but says
the recent appointment of former Liberal David Emerson as Foreign
Affairs minister might signal an improvement.

"It was partly a reflection of weak leadership in the Foreign Affairs
portfolio," says Hampson. "Now what you're seeing is proper adult
supervision of our China policy, and Emerson is showing himself in
short order to be an enormously capable foreign minister. He
understands that more subtlety is needed in the management of the
relationship with China. We need (to be) more temperate, and that
might be Chretien's point."

But any Canadian government policy toward China also has to reflect
the reality that many Canadians care about human rights, adds Hampson.

"So you don't throw away human rights," he says, "There have been
egregious things happening in China and it's important that western
leaders take a stand. You don't turn a blind eye. The real challenge
is getting the calibration right so you don't shoot yourself in the foot."

In a government in which cabinet ministers have not been allowed to
speak freely, political scientist and Harper-watcher Jonathan Malloy
says Emerson has the stature and background that will allow him to
show a streak of independence.

"He is more of a realist," says Malloy. "He says, 'We don't agree
with everything on Tibet and human rights, but there are important
economic interests to consider. China is improving and we have to
take the good with the bad.' Harper and Kenney have a more
black-and-white attitude."

It isn't clear how the relationship with China will affect
Conservatives' chances of forming a majority government, adds Malloy.

"Harper does tend to follow his own principles and views," says the
Carleton University professor, "and his position on China plays well
to the Conservative base. On the other hand, it isn't (maintaining)
his base he has to worry about, but growing it. But how many
Canadians care about our China policy?"

Canadians should care, says Wenran Jiang. "We need to engage China in
a manner that has more substance and not just moral statements," he
says. "On the economic front we can't afford not to engage China.
Over the past few years, it has overtaken Japan and Mexico as the
United States's biggest trading partner and it is set to overtake
Canada - in terms of imports it already has. So do Canadians want
China to replace Canada as the United States' largest trading partner?

"Our China challenge," he adds, "is not across the Pacific but south
of the border. It's an illusion to think we can keep a cold political
relationship with China and expect a warm economic relationship. In
China, Canada is seen as a country unwilling to engage."

And it's a myth than the Harper government is more principled in its
stand against China than previous Canadian governments, he says.

"Aside (from) lecturing China with moral statements," he says, " this
government has done nothing to help human rights in China. There have
been no initiatives whatsoever in the past two and a half years."

Ultimately, predicts Hampson, China's self-interest will prevail.

"China is integrated with the world economy," he says, " and has a
strong appetite for various kinds of natural resources, with which
Canada is well endowed. So the relationship is more durable and more
impervious than some to political high or low notes."

Canadians tend to have an inflated sense of their importance on the
world stage, adds Hampson.

"Some countries matter a lot to China," he says, "and the U.S. is one
of them. But we are a small player. It's also sometimes forgotten
that China also needs us, and so they can live with Harper not going
to the Games, just like they could live with (German chancellor)
Angela Merkel and Prince Charles not going.

"There may be some political ramifications," adds Hampson. "Perhaps
the Chinese won't be at the opening of our Games. But will we care?"
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