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PM Harper, Canada, and China: No Love Lost

December 24, 2009

There is no love lost, but there needs not be love to continue a
pragmatic economic relationship that will grow or not on the basis of
mutual interest but not on shared political/social values.

By DAVID JONES and DAVID KILGOUR The Hill Times, Published December 21, 2009

Canada has a unique degree of independence, geographic, political and
economic, in its relations with China. Canada is not part of the
"quadrilateral interface" in Northeast Asia, with China, Russia, Japan
and Korea struggling to create national security in a region where
swords are piled like trembling jackstraws and where a tactical error
can become a strategic disaster. Canada can step back and say, "none of
my business."

As a mid-level power, Canada isn't required to contend head-to-head in
various political forums with China. There can be advantages to not
being a member of the UN Security Council and forced to bargain with
Beijing on a global range of political concerns. Instead, our
governments can pick and choose among issues.

Nor does Canada owe economic fealty to China; it is not locked in a
symbiotic trade-debt relationship as is the United States. China is a
useful economic partner?and could be more valuable still?but trade with
Beijing is not a life-or-death need. Indeed, Beijing in its far-ranging
search for natural resources needs Canada far more than vice versa.

It is against this backdrop that one can appropriately appreciate Prime
Minister Stephen Harper's early December visit to China.

 From our optic, it appeared as if parts of the Canadian media were
eager to take the Prime Minister to task for a supposedly tardy visit to
China. They battened upon a rather mild comment by the Chinese prime
minister that he should have visited sooner (and skipped past the PM's
tart rejoinder that the top Chinese leadership had yet to visit Canada).
Middle Kingdom arrogance is historical in origin and while the kowtow,
with its bowings and prostrations, disappeared from official protocol
with the end of the Ching Dynasty, even communists enjoy having foreign
devils pay obeisance (or at least due deference) to Chinese prominence.

But Canada has been notably stiff-necked and Prime Minister Harper quite
correctly has not bowed, neither figuratively nor literally, to the
Chinese party-state.

While those running China in their own interests are no longer enamored
with "Mao suits," it remains a very nasty regime. They no longer
practise constantly the revolutionary brutality that brought them to
power in 1949 after a civil war costing the lives of millions. Nor is it
perhaps the regime that unleashed the blood bath of the Cultural
Revolution in the mid-1960s. And even if Tiananmen Square has been
superseded by the 2008 Summer Olympics "bird's nest" stadium in the
global mind's eye, the velvet glove is removed with alacrity frequently.

You do not have to support an independent Tibet to recognize that the
Dalai Lama is one of the world's pre-eminent religious figures and
worthy of high level official attention. If this reality offends
Beijing, it is their problem. You need not believe that Falun Gong
prisoners are pillaged and killed without any form of hearing for organ
transplants (as they clearly are) to recognize that Beijing gravely
limits religious freedom. If the Prime Minister declined to attend the
Beijing 2008 Olympics, he made a useful point of principle in the process.

Surely there are not many Canadians who would elect to live in China in
preference to living in Canada?and the regime's restrictions on basic
freedoms would clearly be a factor in such a decision.

Thus, it is a bit rich to hear whinging from opposition figures
regarding the PM's delay in visiting China or sniping at government
criticism of Beijing's human rights abuses. To be sure, it is the role
of the opposition to oppose but the ritualized carping here smacks of
hypocrisy. Just what can one imagine the opposition saying had the PM
whisked off to China early in his tenure? Why, Harper, of course, was
fronting for big business interests in trade promotion and ignoring the
regime's gross and systematic human rights abuses.

So, as a "check the box" visit, it is done. The Chinese delivered a
ritualistic knuckle tap balanced by a bon bon in the form of according
Canada "approved destination" status for Chinese tourists. Neither side
convinced the other of anything; there is no love lost, but there needs
not be love to continue a pragmatic economic relationship that will grow
(or not) on the basis of mutual interest but not on shared
political/social values.

David Jones is a retired diplomat who served as political minister
counsellor at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa from 1992-96. David Kilgour is
a former Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) now engaged in advancing
international human rights. They co-authored Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs, a
study of Canadian-U.S. relations.

The Hill Times - Canada's Politics and Government Newsweekly
http://www.thehilltimes.ca/page/view/view_washington-12-21-2009
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