What about the whole Communist thing? - Macleans.ca

What about the whole Communist thing?

Paul Wells on the Conservatives’ turnaround on China

Suddenly in the great thrall of China

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

So John Baird went to China and everybody wrung their hands. What about human rights, minister? What about the Chinese people under the Communist jackboot?

“No more Stephen Harper vowing not to sell out human rights for ‘the almighty dollar,’ ” Rod Mickleburgh wrote in the Globe and Mail. “No more Jason Kenney lavishing praise on the Dalai Lama and private meetings between His Holiness and Mr. Harper.”

No indeed. Baird, Harper’s new foreign minister, tipped his hand in a Toronto speech before his three-day trip to China. “China is incredibly important to our future prosperity,” he said. “My government gets it and as Canada’s new minister of foreign affairs, I get it.”

Ah. And what about the whole Communist thing? “Even the best of friends can have legitimate differences of opinion,” the minister said.

All during his trip Baird was dogged, over the phone from Ottawa, by reporters for Canada’s Sun newspaper chain, who wanted to know why Baird’s own Conservative party had written a letter of congratulations to the Chinese Communist Party this summer on the occasion of its 90th anniversary.

Good. No government, least of all one that used to trumpet its virtue in snubbing the China regime, should feel comfortable getting cozy now. As long as China denies basic rights to its people, Canada’s relationship with China should not be business as usual. But it’s also fair to ask why the Harper government has executed this about-face, and to acknowledge that the trend line has been toward greater realism.

First, the Harper government makes no attempt to hide its turn toward China. The change in attitude dates from Harper’s second electoral mandate, not from Baird’s appointment as foreign minister. The government’s own Foreign Affairs website says that after experiencing “some obstacles in recent years,” the “governments of both countries have taken steps to reaffirm to each other the value that each places on the relationship.” An “active program of bilateral dialogues and high-level visits” includes, “in particular, Prime Minister Harper’s December 2009 visit to China.”

Harper’s is hardly the only Western government to change its tune on China. When I was in Berlin in 2007, there was chaos at the foreign department because Angela Merkel’s decision to meet the Dalai Lama had led China to cancel a bunch of meetings with the Germans. That was pure Merkel, a child of Communist East Germany with a visceral disdain for the ideology.

And since 2007? Merkel has gotten over it. She has not met again with the Dalai Lama, but she took a bunch of German business leaders to Beijing a year ago, and again last month. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has been in Berlin five times. Merkel made a few remarks at a news conference about human rights. Wen made a show of being unable to hear the translation. Merkel will be back anyway, as Germany continues to become a key Chinese trade partner.

Harper, meanwhile, waited until the end of 2009 to visit China. Baird’s trip this month lays the groundwork for a return visit by the Prime Minister. So far the meetings have produced grand-sounding pronouncements. When President Hu Jintao was in Ottawa last June, he announced Canada and China had set a goal of doubling bilateral trade volume to $60 billion in five years, by 2015. But here’s the thing: China’s trade with the rest of the world more than doubles every five years. Its trade with the U.S. has more than doubled in most recent five-year periods (the 2008 recession slowed that momentum temporarily). Harper’s 2015 amounts to a promise to fall no further behind. It is, incidentally, eerily similar to an announcement Jean Chrétien made in 2003, when he vowed Canada’s trade with China would double by 2010.

Why bother? Here’s another yardstick. Harper’s government is seeking an enhanced trade deal with the European Union. It would be the most ambitious trade agreement since NAFTA. A 2008 study suggested Canada could expect about $12 billion in benefits from such a deal with Europe. Even without a formal enhanced-trade agreement, there are more incremental dollars for Canada in China than in Europe.

And can Chinese dissidents go hang in the meantime? I put the question to one Conservative government source, who pointed out that Chinese dissidents did not experience a human-rights renaissance while Harper was playing tough. “Part of their psyche is that they don’t care whether we make a stink over some of this stuff.” Baird, this source said, “is trying to demonstrate that he can walk and chew gum on this file.”

Jean Chrétien couldn’t have put it any better. But there is no necessary conflict between building a trade relationship and hoping China’s people see a better day soon.

Last autumn, Harper visited Ukraine even though that country’s current president, Viktor Yanukovych, was the bad guy in the 2004 Orange Revolution and remains too cozy with Moscow. Here, too, Harper was acknowledging that some countries matter to Canada no matter who is running them today.

A million Ukrainian Canadians help ensure Ukraine matters here, of course. There are even more Chinese Canadians, and in relations with China they prefer engagement to isolation. It took a while for Harper’s values to align with his interests, but they are aligning in the right way, and China is patient.


What about the whole Communist thing?

  1. Money talks….and these days it speaks Chinese.

  2. “But there is no necessary conflict between building a trade relationship and hoping China’s people see a better day soon.”

    Canada is profoundly conservative country, or at least Government/bureaucracy is. We used to have a party, known as Reform, that wanted to do things differently, not be so deferential towards The State and now that party is gone. 

    Conservatives have become fascists, just like Libs and NDP, and will support any totalitarian government and it’s a shame. 

    Has it crossed no one’s mind that trade = money = more power to ChiComs to keep their people under heel. Trade with ChiComs only prolongs tyranny that Chinese people are subject to on daily basis. 

    Book review of  P Pan’s Out Of Mao’s Shadow: 

    “He puts the reader on a stool in the small shop of laid-off steel worker Yao Fuxin as Yao and some colleagues plot a doomed demonstration against corrupt local officials in the rust-belt city of Liaoyang.

    We run through cornfields with blind activist Chen Guangcheng as he escapes from government thugs in his home village, hoping to carry a petition for justice all the way to Beijing …. 

    Local government omnipotence and corruption are a toxic combination, personified in Pan’s book by Zhang Xide, the party secretary of Linquan County. He presided over the violent repression of a peasant revolt against coercive birth-control methods and illegal taxes.”


    John Derbyshire ~ Wherever there is a jackboot stomping on a human face there will be a well-heeled Western liberal to explain that the face does, after all, enjoy free health care and 100 percent literacy.

  3. “It took a while for Harper’s values to align with his interests, but they are aligning in the right way, and China is patient.”

    It would be nice if Harper of Government of Canada thought of Canadian interests and not Ukrainian or Chinese interests. So what if Chinese-Canadians want closer ties to China. 

    It is not remotely clear to me that Canada should want closer ties to Chinese. 

    “China energetically uses the “thousand grains of sand” approach to espionage. This involves China trying to get all Chinese going overseas, and those of Chinese ancestry living outside the motherland, to spy for China, if only a tiny bit.”


    Wells:  I just finished your Entertaining Will/Kate column and I enjoyed it immensely. I thought your ” Where else indeed” was classic –  had me giggling maniacally all day yesterday.

  4. Foreigners should first find out why the Chinese people generally support their government before making criticisms against their government that would enrage them. Foreigners who have no understanding of China and the Chinese people are often very critical of a China of their own imagination. Moreover, a good Canadian government must first look after Canada and Canadians before attempting to look after other people.


    • ‘very critical of a China of their own imagination.’   So true.

    • “Foreigners should first find out why the Chinese people generally support their government …”

      Doesn’t sound like Chinese people support their government.  

      “Last year there were over 100,000 protests across the country. Cracks are opening up as China is feeling the growing pains of massive social upheaval and economic development. These protests remain isolated, often sparked by individuals or communities rising against local or provincial cases of corruption. What the Communist Party fear more than anything, is that a generalised, national protest could provide the focus and glue to the millions of increasingly marginalised and disaffected.”

      • Count how many protests their were in Canada last year, multiply that number by about 125, and tell me if the number of protests per capital is any different.

    • Hey look it’s Olly! Spewing up western propaganda like dog with diarrhea. I’m sorry but I can make up facts too and post it as “news”. Channel4 is known to be an avid China hater and Olly is like the head priest with the torch on a witch hunt. He’ll spin any story in his favor to make himself look heroic while bashing on China. Sorry buddy, good try.

    • I think anything that sums up one-fifth of the world’s population into a single word is going to involve a lot of imagination.

      Especially here, when there isn’t really a word in any “Chinese” language that corresponds to the words “China” or “Chinese”.  They’re just words foreigners made up because they couldn’t understand the Chinese concepts of self-identity.  “Chinese” (in this case any dialect spoken by the Hanzu) is/are very specific when it comes to group identity, language and ethnicity.  Not surprising, really, when one considers “China” was a geographically vast empire consisting of dozens of nationalities/ethnicities and hundreds of sub-groups of the main nationality who speak mutually incomprehensible dialects.  Prior to 1949, there just wasn’t any such entity as “China”.

      There was a partially successful attempt by the Communists to to fit Chinese history into Marxist ideology so that it would fit into a single national identity.  It kind of works if you ignore a third of the population.

  5. Feeding the viper..Great foreign policy, dumb-asses.
    How many companies have left China because they steal the tech then make it impossible for the real company to do business.
    China has not changed from a totalitarian regime, the western countries just don’t care about human rights anymore since the socialist entitlement policies of the last fifty yrs have bankrupted near every country on the planet.
    Our National and Provincial  governments needs a lesson in morals.
    We should not do business with China unless they become a free democracy, end of story.
    Since we provide China with the resources to build the world’s largest standing army which is used exclusively to put down the people are we not complicit in every unjust death dealt out by the Communist regime?
    In China we have a leader who brags he has killed more of his own people through the one child policy than Mao, Musses on having one hundred million unwanted men in the military, states he cares not for any loss of soldiers should a war with the west break out, and causally kills his own people to harvest organs for sale to the highest bidder….and we wanna do business with these freaks?
    Here’s an idea, Stop immigration for a few yrs so we don’t have to expand the economy at break neck speed and have to deal with Communist dictators.
    It is the influx of population that drives the need for constant expansion, Canadians do need even replace themselves through birth rates, we are selling off the country for others and throwing away the morals that made Canada exceptional.

    • Like it says…’of your own imagination’…and you have a vivid one. LOL

    • it seems the western propaganda machine is well oiled and churning out brainwashed China-haters quicker than ever. Keep up the good work, China’s own propaganda department could learn useful things by watching drones like you ramble on about the “facts”.

    • The problem I have with posts like dsaar’s is that the posters don’t really give us any firm goalposts or criteria by which to formulate a trade & human rights policy.  There are a helluva lot of countries with human rights records worse than China’s.  Not that I’m giving China a free pass either.  But if we’re not going to do business with China until they become a “free democracy”, well then intellectual and policy consistency should suggest that we shouldn’t do business with scads of other countries as well.  Once we cross all those countries off the list, who would be left to trade with?  Pretty much OECD countries and a few others.  Then I’d like to see a credible analysis of the economic impact of that.

  6. Well here in BC we are over-joyed at the reception China is giving to our forest industry.  In the longer term this should break the hold of the unfair US-Canada Soft Wood Lumber Agreement.

    British Columbia’s foresters have made a long-awaited breakthrough in China by convincing the country of the merits of wood.
    The effort has sent the value of B.C. lumber exports surging beyond expectations.
    China is a bright spot in what remains a troubled industry. B.C. lumber sales to mainland China doubled in 2010 to $668-million, exceeding Japan for the first time. But Japan is still an extremely weak market while the United States – the traditional No. 1 market for B.C. wood – is mired in a housing recession.

  7. Well now everybody’s going.

    ‘Canada’s provincial and territorial leaders will launch a joint trade mission to China with the federal government within one year, they announced on the final day of their annual summer gathering held in Vancouver this year.
    The trip will be part of a strategy called Canada in the Global Economy. The leaders also agreed on a trade agenda that will focus on U.S., European Union, Asian and emerging markets.’


  8. I’m kind of curious about China’s flip-flop from “Harper is the dumbest leader on the world stage” to “Let’s have a drink with this big-nosed fatso.”