Mr. Harper goes to Beijing

Six years after vowing not to sell out to China, the PM is hunting for a deal


China is home to the world’s second-largest economy. It grew by 9.2 per cent in 2001, even as its chief rivals, the United States and the European Union, continued to struggle. As a country that sells things—oil, natural gas, uranium—Canada needs access to Chinese money and markets if it wants to thrive going forward.

That is fact one.

China is run by an undemocratic regime. It spends billions of dollars controlling its own people, often violently, every year and it uses its influence to prop up some of the world’s most violent and unstable dictatorships.

That is fact two.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper wakes up Wednesday for the first of his four days of meetings in Beijing, these two facts will hang over everything he does. Canada cannot not do business with China. But doing business with China makes many Canadians uneasy. How Harper reconciles this will define his trip, no doubt. But it could also define his foreign policy legacy as prime minister.

At the moment, China sells Canada $4 worth of goods for every $1 we sell them. Given the size of the Chinese market, righting that balance somewhat should be a priority.  At the same time, Canada’s sense of itself rests on some level on the idea that we are a force for good in the world; that we try to use what influence we have to promote human rights and democracy, even it’s not always clear how much influence a mid-level power with goods to sell can or should have in the world beyond the economic.

Maclean’s Political Editor Paul Wells is with the Prime Minister in Beijing. He’ll be filing regularly both during and after the trip. But as Wells laid out Monday, Harper’s guest list makes clear this is a business excursion. CEOs from major manufacturing, transport and resource firms are along for the trip. Others from agriculture and oil-and-gas firms are there as guests of Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.

On one level, this is very much about oil. Harper has called the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline a national priority. If built, it would pump bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to Kitimat on the B.C. coast and from there onto the Asian—read: Chinese—markets. China’s state-owned Sinopec, which has a large and growing stake in oil sands production, is investing in the pipeline itself and the Chinese no doubt want assurances it’s going to get built, despite local opposition to the project in B.C.

After years as a junior partner in the oil sands, China is now becoming an owner outright. PetroChina will operate the new MacKay River project when it opens in 2014. Sinopec bought Daylight Energy Ltd. for $2.2 billion in December. The Chinese may be seeking more flexibility in how they run those projects, including on the labour end.

Sinopec subsidiaries have been bringing temporary Chinese labour into Alberta for years, with sometimes controversial results. On Monday, Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company asked the Supreme Court of Canada to throw out charges against it related to the deaths of two Chinese workers in Fort McMurray in 2007. Those same workers, it was later revealed, were having their nominally high wages siphoned by the company in China, seemingly as a way to get around Canadian wage laws.

Which of course brings everything back to the human rights/business dichotomy. Canadian businesses want more access to Chinese markets on better terms. Chinese companies want Canadian resources, and they want to be able to control the production and shipping of them from start to finish. When Stephen Harper first came to power in 2006, he said he didn’t think Canadians wanted him to sell out to China to achieve business ends (or to the “almighty dollar” as he put it at the time.) Whether he can actually do that is what this trip is all about. (That, of course, and pandas.)

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Mr. Harper goes to Beijing

  1. “Mr.” … classy. and we might as well stop trading with everyone else in the world given the fact that everyone has a bad history of something. and given Canada’s history of intolerance, slaves and wiping out the Aboriginal population, we might as well stop trading with ourselves as well. lets all just stay home.

    • The difference is that these things are a part of our history…China is still committing these crimes today.

  2. “When Stephen Harper first came to power in 2006, he said he didn’t think Canadians wanted him to sell out to China to achieve business ends (or to the “almighty dollar” as he put it at the time.) Whether he can actually do that is what this trip is all about. (That, of course, and pandas.)”

    I believe he’s going to get aound that one by giving them a 50year lease on Northern Alberta. Maybe get Christy that great liberal to invoke the NWS clause on Aboriginal rights…there that oughta fix those radicals.

    Maybe i shouldn’t even joke like that…the pmo snoops here pretty regular…shouldn’t give them ideas eh!

  3. Hoorah time to become an economic powerhouse again plz :)

    Time to show them the value of North American quality control

  4. We might also want to stop trading with the U.S. too cos at this point they are the number one force for evil on earth. With their constant war mongering, abuse of prisoners at guantanamo and other places and suppressing their own citizens.

  5. I was wondering how the “missing pay cheques” case was coming along.  Last I heard CNRL was trying to track them down back in China.  If I remember, the oil sands companies were short workers and that is why CNRL subcontracted the building of the storage tank.

    B.C is having to deal with the new Chinese owners of two coal mines bringing in “guest” workers so it definitly is something that needs to be addressed.  Then again, one can only hope China is open to being progressive as it sure beats having your workers kidnapped as they were in Sudan.

  6. Stephen Harper recently ridiculed many people who suggested it might be a good idea to have a debate in Canada leading to a National Energy Strategy for Canada.  That sounded too socialist for Harper, since he had spent much of the past three election campaigns promising to reduce the influence of government on the economy.  Now he has encouraged the Communist Chinese government to gain huge influence over the most promising energy projects in Canada.  He allowed the Communist Chinese government’s state oil companies to purchase oil sands and non-conventional oil developments.  Harper essentailly declared that the Norther Gateway pipeline will be built to accommodate Chinese requirements despite any objections from Canadians.  It would appear that Harper and all these corporate executives have gone to China so that they can learn first hand what Canada’s National Energy Strategy is destined to be, as determined by the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China.  Harper doesn’t need socialism, when he can go for the real Communist experience. 

  7. I worked for PetroChina in another Asian country for about a year and one-half.  Here is what I learned about their priorities in order of importance: 

    1.     Fill the bank accounts of senior managers and executives by skimming a bit from every corporate transaction. 
    2.     Exercise every opportunity to move revenue from joint venture partners to PetroChina and vice versa for costs. 
    3.     Ensure that all produced natural resources are moved to China at the lowest cost possible with the least return for the host country. 
    4.     Structure every materials and services tender to ensure all contracts are awarded to Chinese companies despite high costs or poor quality. 
    5.     As quickly as possible replace all employees of the host country nationality with Chinese nationals, of which about 10 percent are Communist Party bureaucrats with no knowledge of the business venture itself.  Charge the joint venture for North American level salaries for these Chinese employees, but actually pay them third world wages and keep the difference for the Chinese government. 
    6.     All the above must be satisfied prior to any consideration for the effective performance of the joint venture. 
    This is what Stephen Harper has planned for Canada and Albertans seem to be swallowing it. 

    • Just sleazy, but no surprise, considering its China. And our illustrious leader salivating at the thought of hopping in bed with them.
      But no matter, Enbridge Northern Gateway isn’t going to happen, no matter how much the media spins it.  Can’t get through the First Nations territories, Coastal First Nations won’t have the super tankers off the BC coast, and if that isn’t enough, there’s the option of the First Nations tying this up in court for years to come.
      And, the Keystone XL will happen.

  8. (PV) Mr. Harper is among human rights equals it would seem. The Chinese know the value of ‘progessive’ interogation techniques. I feel so much more secure knowing our federal government has given CSIS the right to torture detainees they feel are a threat to our national security. It’s nice to know we are in such commpassionate and warm hands. I mean torturing someone for for a ‘good’ cause is okay, isn’t it? Sure it is. Bush and Chaney did it so it’s okay. So while you try to sell oil to the pros Mr. Harper, you might want to get interrogation tips from the best at it. Meanwhile, we Canadians will practise our new salute : Put your right arm straight up and in front of you, then cry for Canada. 

  9. I prefer to be poor than China’s slave.
    Nothing good for the average Canadian folk could come out of this.
    I can actually see even the construction jobs ( the few left anyway…already all the materials to build anything in this country are made in China) being outsourced …
    Shame on all politician who’ve done nothing properly for the past 20 years.
    No free trade with China, teach young people real skills in oder to make their own goods, get rid of middle man.

  10. In fairness.. 6 years is a lot longer than most Harper promises last.

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