Why Harper is heading to Asia - Macleans.ca

Why Harper is heading to Asia

A central tenet of Harper’s political strategy is if the other guy is talking about something, you should take away his bragging rights


Why Harper is heading to AsiaThe Conservative strategists around Stephen Harper like to think in terms of “sword issues” and “shield issues.” A sword issue is one Conservatives can use to gain votes: tough-on-crime policies, tax cuts, the home-renovation tax credit. “Shield issues” are the ones the Conservatives will lose votes on, unless they are clever about protecting themselves.

The environment is the shield issue par excellence: Harper isn’t going to win big with environmentalists. (This is the part of the column where we tell you something you already knew.) But he’s told a succession of environment ministers (Rona Ambrose, John Baird, Jim Prentice) to furrow their brows at the appropriate moments, so the gap between Liberals and Conservatives doesn’t open so wide that votes start to disappear into it. Same with arts funding. Cuts to arts programs cost the Conservatives hard-won momentum in Quebec in 2008. So Harper named a new heritage minister, James Moore, and has given him plenty of latitude to make peace with people in the arts and show business.

Later this autumn, Harper will make his first trips to China and India. This sure looks like a shield. Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal leader, is forever talking about China and India, as did Stéphane Dion and Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien before him. “Stephen Harper hasn’t been to India,” Ignatieff told the Toronto Board of Trade in September. “And he refused his only invitation to China. Our market share in both countries has fallen since he took office. We’ve run our first trade deficits in 30 years. We can’t afford to keep losing ground.”

It’s a central tenet of Harper’s political strategy that if the other guy is talking about something, you should take away his bragging rights. So it came as no surprise when the Prime Minister’s Office announced Harper’s first trip to India for Nov. 16 to 18, to be followed by a China trip from Dec. 2 to 6. Now the polarity of bragging rights is reversed: it’s Harper who will be able to point out that Ignatieff hasn’t been to India since he entered Canadian politics in 2006—and that it was Ignatieff who cancelled, in September, his only invitation to China.

But the gap between the Liberals and the Conservatives doesn’t end with that rather trivial difference. And the longer you look at what the Conservatives are doing with regard to China—and, to a much greater extent, with India—the more the two countries start to look like Conservative swords.

China, of course, is a difficult file for the Conservatives. It is the last important bastion of global Communism, and a lot of senior Conservatives, including Trade Minister Stockwell Day and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, are no fans of the Beijing regime. Harper and Kenney met the Dalai Lama in 2007, the kind of gesture Beijing always notices and never likes. David Emerson, the Vancouver Liberal-turned-Conservative cabinet minister, seemed like a lonely voice in favour of sustained engagement with China, and he didn’t even run again in 2008.

And yet, by mid-century, according to some estimates, China will have passed the United States as the world’s largest economy, and there’s no way even a stubborn Prime Minister can ignore that kind of performance for long. So Harper is finally getting on a plane—and his office was careful to add that his visit will have followed “18 ministerial-level visits to China since 2006.” More than with any other country, relations with China benefit from continuous engagement. If China is worth visiting, Harper’s personal reluctance to do the visiting for nearly four years has hurt the bilateral relationship. He is clearly eager to minimize, and begin reversing, the damage.

India is another matter: English-speaking, Commonwealth member, chaotic and imperfect, but a thriving democracy—what’s not to like? Harper’s trip, the PMO notes, follows 11 ministerial-level trips since 2006. And during last year’s election campaign, he announced plans to open a trade office in the Indian province of Gujarat to go with offices in Hyderabad and Calcutta.

The Liberals essentially blacklisted Gujarat after Hindu-Muslim violence in 2002 killed 1,000 people there. But the Gujarati community in Toronto has tripled in size in a decade, to 145,000 people. It’s one of the fastest-growing South Asian communities in the country. And at the end of September, Stock Day travelled to Ahmedabad to open the Canadian trade office for Gujarat.

This kind of sustained effort and attention will be noticed in ridings like Brampton-Springdale, where Liberal incumbent Ruby Dhalla beat Conservative challenger Parm Gill by only 773 votes last October. Dhalla’s share of the riding vote represented a six-point drop from her 2006 score. Gill outpolled the 2006 Conservative candidate by nine points. Any further swing would finish Dhalla off.

This has been the pattern of Conservative and Liberal behaviour on so many issues for the past five years: the Liberals chastise their opponents for failing to understand the way the world works, while the Conservatives quietly outmanoeuvre the Liberals. What’s past is no guarantee of the future, of course. Ignatieff could stop merely lecturing Harper and instead launch an outreach program to ethnic communities that would parallel, or even outpace, the Conservatives. Of course he could beat the Conservatives on some other issue. Or he could keep assuming Liberal virtue outshines Conservative virtue while the evidence supporting that assumption continues to erode. So many options.

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Why Harper is heading to Asia

  1. It's a central tenet of Harper's political strategy that if the other guy is talking about something, you should take away his bragging rights.

    How does this square with all the media drones who keep badgering Ignatieff to lay out his platform. Aren't they essentially saying that he should play right into Harper's hands.

    Anyway, I don't see why Harper is going to China at all. I don't have a problem if corporations want to do business with them but I don't see why my tax dollars should be used to pave the way when China has such a horrendous human rights record. To me it just seems counter productive if we're willing to do business via the government with countries like China and Colombia. It sends the message that we're quite comfortable overlooking their abuses as long as there's a buck to be made. If Harper wanted to take a principled stand he'd go to India–long overdue–and avoid China while sending the unmistakable message that Canada will only officially deal with countries that share our values on human rights.

    • It's a heads they win, tails we lose sort of situation.

      On the one hand, the only real influence with have with other countries is through military action and trade. So isolating people with sanctions works in the short term, in the long term it seems to be something that just isolates a country and encourages them to form links with other countries that we don't want to do business with (such as Iran or North Korea). So if we want to have influence with them, we have to engage and trade with them, and hope that our values will be imported along with our money.

      On the other hand, if we do business with them, we give them legitimacy in the wider international community and bolster their economic power and thus allow them to export their values and their influence. Plus, further abuses happen as they don't give a damn about the health and welfare of their own people, and simply collude with corporations to become a source of cheap labour and toxic disposal that both undermines our own economy and causes environmental catastrophe. On the other hand, living in an isolated regime with a totalitarian state tends to be even worse than that.

      So I'm not sure what the proper strategy for relations with China is.

      • Some posters are clearly sent by the gods to be a trial and tribulation, to strengthen our spirit by encouraging us to be polite and tolerant.

        First of all, sanctions don't work, and have never worked in 2,000 years. Anyone can smuggle anything in and out of a country for enough money. Only the poor, who can't afford the black market premium, suffer under sanctions. The middle class and upper class never even notice sanctions were ever imposed. The increase in black market cost is merely one more type of inflation.

        • Second, whether we endure a neighbor we don't like or not doesn't depend only on making a buck. Tolerance depends on how many bucks are involved. In the case of China, the number of bucks so clearly outweighs any other consideration, the pragmatic, practical decision of national governments is obvious, not worth a second thought.

          Finally, the State Council is not a bad government. As national governments go, it's actually pretty good, and certainly better than the majority in the world. Asserting that the Chinese government 'don't give a damn about the health and welfare of their own people', is simply preposterous, and libel. Some people should do some research before they take the leash off their typing fingers. Looking up a definition of 'totalitarian state' would be a good place to start.

          • but you lost me here. The chinese government has gotten better, but I wouldn't say that it is a good government. Not by a long shot. Certainly when I think of regimes whose authority I'd want to live under, they would be in the bottom 50 of the list.

          • I regret the bluntness of pointing out that your position doesn't have a leg to stand on. When you pile up most of the nations of Africa and Latin America, Southeast Asia, including the island nations, Central Asia, at least half the nations of the Mideast, and every European nation east of Poland and south of the Czech Republic, you will see a travesty of incompetence and corruption that will turn your blood to ice. You can't honestly suggest you would want to live under any of those regimes and expect other people to take you seriously, or even pretend to believe you.

            To argue that China doesn't have a good government is plainly ludicrous. You try taking a nation of more than a billion people from abject deprivation and misery to a major world power in one generation, and see how well you perform at the task. Your stance appears emotional, not rational or realistic.

        • You make a good case here…

    • The call for a platform goes hand in hand with the call for an election. Barring criminal activity, and even in that case it still comes, the call for an opposition leader to say what he/she would do is a logical and inevitable follow up question.

      If the OLO had done their job then they would have been just calling the government to account, letting the case make itself slowly and inexorably. That allows them to stay quiet. As soon as you make stupid comments like Your time is Up then an expectation that you are ready to take their place is created and people look and poke.

      I believe the OLO lived in an echo chamber where the rants of rage a holics and those with HDS listened only to themselves, and spoke only to themselves. As Wells said, the OLO is convinced its own inherent virtues would shine through, the main virtue they were counting on was that they werent Stephen Harper.

      Didnt work for them, because they werent ready. They called attention to themselves before Canadians were sufficiently disgusted with the Cons and before the Liberals were ready for their close up. Really fundamental startegic issues…..speculate amongst yourselves as to why this was the case.

      • "The call for a platform goes hand in hand with the call for an election."

        Didn't stop Harper last year, when he released his platform weeks after the writ was dropped.

        • A government has a record to defend, might be a good one, might be a bad one or i might even be a non existent one. Dion to his credit, had an idea, it was just a bad one and certainly a badly communicated one.

          Look there are loits of examples on either side, good and bad. Liberals released the red book in 1992 to counter that they were yesterdays man with no ideas, the cons in 1984 had to produce policies to get attention, the cons in 2006 (?) did the same thing, some before some after the writ.

          Taking the position that you are going to bering the govenrment down with either no demonstartion of your own plan, or a a convincing demonstration of governing party incompetence is folly. This isnt partisan, its pretty fundamental strategy. But these mistakes get made by all sides and all leaders….Haprer made his in 2005. day got totally whipsawed by Chretien in what 1998?. Happens to all of them.

          The Liberals need to ask why the last two OLO's have been so tone deaf to electoral reality?

    • "How does this square with all the media drones who keep badgering Ignatieff to lay out his platform. Aren't they essentially saying that he should play right into Harper's hands."

      The insistence of the media drones, some of whom are prominent journalists, that Ignatieff give them chapter and verse of his policies makes them look like Harper lapdogs. Ignatieff has given the broad strokes of his policies, which is a damn sight more than we're getting from Harper.

      I wonder if China could be better persuaded to change it's ways by following your suggestion, or by making the effort to improve their human rights records as part and parcel of doing business with them.

    • “To me it just seems counter productive if we’re willing to do business via the government with countries like China and Colombia. It sends the message that we’re quite comfortable overlooking their abuses as long as there’s a buck to be made. ”

      Ok but did you have those same concerns when we were doing business with Bush?

      • If we only traded with countries who actually "share our values on human rights", we would only be trading with a very small number of countries, especially in terms of the global population. Basically we would be trading with the EU, the US (except that the entire Canadian centre-left sees the US as evil, so maybe not them either), Australia and New Zealand.

    • Harper should be doing business with countries such as China and Colombia if its going to benefit Canada ultimately. And there is nothing wrong with the Colombian government, so if you don't know anything about the government, dont make judgements.

  2. "The Liberals essentially blacklisted Gujarat after Hindu-Muslim violence in 2002 killed 1,000 people there."

    Was this because there was evidence of state collusion in the violence, or that the authorities stood back and allowed it to happen? I need someone to provide some context for this.

      • Well, I'd like it in the article too.

        I'm still not seeing exactly why the Liberals would blacklist Gujarat. It seems like it was civil violence that got out of control, and the government mishandled it, but it doesn't seem to be a specific act against a segment of their population. Or am I reading that wrong?

        • Another view is that the Liberal blacklisting was just Indian ethnic politics playing itself out on a Canadian canvass. A reasonable hypothesis is that there is that the Indo-Canadian Muslim community has greater pull within the Liberal party than the Indo-Canadian Hindu Community. This blacklisting may have shown that off and shaken loose the ties the Liberals had, while Jason Kenney was there to catch th falling Pomegranites.

          • That's an interesting theory, and the type of information I was wondering about. Do you have any sources that I could examine to back that up?

          • For crying out loud. As other posters have described, the information you request is readily available on the internet, and has been for years. Look it up for yourself, if you genuinely want to know. Gujarat is kitty-corner to the state where Canada has its main office, and most people believe the interests of Canada would be better served with another office further away, to involve more of the host country in Canadian influence. By any geopolitical standard, two states right beside each other in such a vast area as India is not good strategy, tactics, or logistics, and Canada obviously would have been better off to put the office almost anywhere else. Look up the facts on the internet, going back about 20 years. Try the Europa Year Book at your local library, if you can't use the internet properly.

  3. Here is a thought! What if our boy Stevie has a truly machiavellian plot – and sets up a trade deal to the east with the EU (oops already working on one) and then turns around and sets up another with China – and all the while improves business with the USA through NAFTA -> think about the possibilities for canadian companies :)

  4. The liberals might be well served by asking if his pulbic criticisms of China's social practices are in the past, or if he just feels their $ is more important?

    • Well Iggy advised Larry Summers, while at Harvard, that the endowment fund should sell its complete stake in PetroChina because of the Chinese record in Darfur.

  5. What you are saying is that, in your mind, Harper can't win. You are assuming that Harper only acts for political motives, that nothing he does is because he is the Prime Minister and that is what a PM should be doing.

    I find your opinion of Harper farr too cynical and insulting.

    • That's the problem with the media in this country. Because Harper will not play footsie with the media they conjure up all kinds of things to explain his actions. Sometimes I think the Conservatives are authors of their own problems. Why would the PM not speak at a press conference with his health minister and public health officials. He could clear up a lot of the misinformation that the media is so quick to spread. Failing any real news the media will invent it to fill out their newscasts and columns.
      Having said that I always enjoy Paul Wells point of view. At least he has some intelligence attached to it rather than the mindless news writers and columnists in the so call MSM.

      • Change your first sentence to read "That's the problems with Harper" and you'd have something.

        The media is doing its job as it must.

    • And most would find your opinion of Harper far too naive and superficial.

  6. Some very rich, juicy post hoc ergo propter hoc logic here.

    I just love teh punditz0rz!

  7. If Wells had done his research instead of relying on the pablum that pmo is feeding him, he would know that the violence between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 was because of the bombing of Hindus by Muslims coming back via train from a pilgrimage and riots between Hindus and Muslims ensued shortly after that. The Liberals did in fact follow the US and the UK at the time by blacklisting Narendra Modi who is the Chief Minister of the state. However, what is interesting is that even within the current administration, there has been dissent. Paul – see Stockwell Day's most recent trip to India. He met with Chief Minister Modi – which was widely covered in the Indian media but for some reason that information was never provided to the Canadian media. Why is that? Because people within PMO and the bureaucracy do not believe that is a story that should be told. I predict this trip will be filled with photo ops/spin and no principled substantive engagement. BTW, it is now Kolkata not Calcutta!!

    • Is Rome called Roma in news reports?

    • All my Indian friends living in Calcutta, still call it Calcutta or CAL for short. Kolkataa is political pablum for the linguistic feudalists, just like Mumbai and Chennai.

      Furthermore, yours is but one side of the story. The other side is that Narendra Modi's administration and the state police forces actively stood by while Hindu retribution mobs went after Gujarati Muslims. There were central government enquiries into the facts to see if their was indeed collusion that resulted in many deaths. Now Modi has mostly rehabiliated his image such that he has an excellent chance of becoming the Leader of the Opposion and BJP party in the central government.

      The blacklisting was probably justified, but the time has come to remove them from the list.

      • By choosing to punish India for the their nuclear test and punish India and Gujarat for the riots and the results we have damaged Canada's ability to succeed in India. Fact: Bilateral trade with India is $4.6B annually today. Trade with China is $85B. Number of Indian students 7,000 (appx). Number Chinese students studying in Canada 42,000 (appx). Canada is far behind on India and if we choose to continue talking down to India, blacklisting state governments or imposing sanctions on India as Canada did in 1998, we will continue to alienate a great potential ally.

        On your point about collusion, there have been reports and various investigations regarding Gujarat and the riots led by the Congress government. If there was indeed collusion, the Congress government would have been the first to charge Modi for these alleged crimes. However, the untold story is in fact that the riots were the result of the actions of radical Islamists.

        Regarding the blacklisting of Modi, ask yourself if it is justifiable to blacklist the Chief Minister of a state within a democratic India, with rule of law, while we, in the Western world, especially Canada has never blacklisted any of the leaders from China who actively ordered the Tianamen Square massacre, the torture of Falun Gong practitioners and the suppression of Tibetans (which continues today).

        The changing of the names was an act of national pride by the government of India to change the names from their anglocized names (i.e. Calcutta, Bombay, Madras and Bangalore). Indians wanted to restore the names that the British had changed. At the very least, my recommendation is that Mr. Wells, the PM and his staff should respect the current way in which those cities are officially addressed in the 21st century. It would be proper protocol, as it would be not to refer to Beijing as Peking.

        • It's not "restoring the names from their anglicised forms," it's altering the names as pronounced in English. It's every language's right to mispronounce, and thus misspell, foreign proper names; actually it's kind of distinguishing, it means the person / place mispronounced and misspelt has an independent life in another language / country.

          Thus Roma > Rome, Par-EE > PAIR-iss, YAY-soos > JEE-zuz, Nietzsche > NEE-chee, Ca-MUE > KA-moo, etc. etc. etc.

          The very name for India (in English) is derived from Sanskrit via Persian via Greek via Latin.

        • here here…well said…the real deal.

    • And the real name of India is Hindustan.

  8. The picture speaks a million words.

    Stevie Harper as a 'God-like' Buddha figure with the sun as his halo!!

    Will the Conservative Party or Canadian taxpayers foot the bill for massive Mao sized posters to up all over China?

    • You're comment is way over the top.

      If nothing else, Harper can get photo-ops with Obama again….cause he'll be there too.

      • You have lost any sense of humour! Lighten up will'ya!

        Yes, Harper loves to be in the coattails of Obama! Canada has become truly subservient to its largest trading partner but will not get an exemption from Congress's very popular Buy America decree!! Harper's government intervened in the Democratic leadership race because it fear Obama's protectionism. Obama has not forgotten that dirty little trick carried out by the PMO office and Canada's Ambassador in the US.

    • I suspect small shiny pottery figurines emphasizing his Buddha-ness would be more popular. Or maybe a dashboard bobblehead . . .

      If you read Chinese-language media, Stephen Harper is widely regarded in China as being sympathetic to Chinese terrorists & criminals. Google Huseyincan Celil or Lai Changxing. He was also widely regarded as being the only world leader who made Bush look smart and worldly.

  9. Stephen Harper's Conservative government has done an immense amount of damage to our relationship with China, damage which has cost us economically and will continue to do so for some time to come despite whatever last ditch efforts he makes to try to save the relationship.

    • I dislike anyhting made in China, why is most of everything I pick up is just that. What's the big deal with China, I like a man that stands his ground on human rights.Is that so terrible

      • Nothing bad about standing up for human rights, quite the contrary. I would be happy to pay more for consumer goods if I thought it would make any difference to human rights in China, although I suspect the vast majority of people could care less. Unfortunately, Harper has acted like a petulant child regarding China. That just made them angry at us without doing anything whatsoever to improv human rights in China. If you are going to take action, it should be effective action. But once again, Harper was motivated by partisan considerations rather than Canada's best interests.

        • frenchie
          What about human rights abuses in Colombia then? Harper apparently has no qualms about them. Without consistency, a principled stand against human rights abuses is not really credible. Take these together and it looks more like old-tyme Commie bashing.

          FWIW, I also avoid buying Chinese whenever possible.

    • Canada's exports to China went from $7,325,135,765 in 2006 to $9,994,684,999 year end 2008, that's an increase of 36%.
      Canada's exports to China went from $6,770,000,000 in 2004 to $7,325,135,765 year end 2006, that's an increase of 8%.

      what damage????

      • well said Frenchie – but be careful on these web forums -as if you start dealing with realistic information rather than uber partisan shots you won't be popular!

        • I never win popularity contests , then again,thats not my goal in life:-)

        • I never win popularity contests , then again,thats not my goal in life:-)

    • Your full of SH1T!

      • No, I am not.

  10. This is all political optics and blather. There is nothing Stephen Harper or any PM can do, including opening "trade offices" to improve economic relations with other countries. That is something merchants and the markets do. Except, oh yeah, Canada poses as a Free Trading nation, while in reality maintains strict political and bureaucratic control of trade. If we want improved trade relations with China — and we do — it is time for our poseur PM to stay home, repeal whole spools of red tape and stop with his disordered obsessive politicking at Canadians' expense.

  11. More wasted tax money. Let companies go and negotiate on their own. For Harper its only a vacation at tax payers expense.

    • Yeah, but the prevailing wisdom is that Harper is becoming Chretien-Deux. So, then, time for a Team Canada mission or two, dontcha think? Anybody know if he's dragging along a bunch of business types for the dog-and-pony show of "making deals" already made?

  12. I posted this in Wells's blog earlier, and now I'm posting it in the relevant column:

    I heard a tantalizing rumour that Harper has big plans for the China visit. Harper will be part of a gala event that will simultaneously promote the 2010 Shanghai Expo and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics (a symbolic ‘passing of the torch' from Summer to Winter Olympics).

    The event will feature glittery performances by Chinese musicians, dancers and acrobats, and one of the major themes will be Chinese/Canadian friendship and cultural understanding. It will be televised nationally, with a projected TV audience in the hundreds of millions.

    One of the most famous foreigners in China, Dashan (a.k.a. Mark Rowswell) is a master of the ancient Chinese comedic art of xiangsheng. He speaks perfect Mandarin and often acts as a “cultural ambassador”. Earlier this year, Harper appointed him Canada's Commissioner General for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. Dashan will play a starring role in the gala.

    Dashan wrote a comedy routine which will be performed by him and four Chinese artists. The routine is full of puns and wordplay, joking about hockey and other Canadian winter sports that seem exotic to most Chinese. Toward the end of the performance, Harper walk onstage to thunderous applause and will deliver the punchline in pitch-perfect Mandarin. Following this surprise, Harper will deliver a short speech of goodwill to China in French and English, which will be translated by Dashan. Norman Bethune and others will be honoured.

    This performance should go a long way toward mending bridges and boosting Canada's profile in China. Needless to say, it will be Harper's largest audience ever, by a factor of at least ten (a nice follow-up to his “piano man” routine).

    • Right, I heard about this Dashan guy! Apparently he's huge! It would be a great idea to include him in a big gala, with the PM front & centre. A great PR coup, especially if televised. Kudos to the Beijing embassy for this and to the PM for seeing the potential. I hope it happens!

      • So do I! It sounds like a fantastic idea.

        • Crit Reasoning at its best

          • Crit Reasoning at his worst. The cultural ignorance is astounding.

            Bu hao!

          • Don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger. ;-)

          • Yeah, I could tell you were passing on talking points when I read this line: Harper will walk onstage to thunderous applause and will deliver the punchline in pitch-perfect Mandarin.

            Having taken two Mandarin classes, to become "pitch-perfect" in a tonal language is quite an achievement. Is Harper even pitch-perfect in french? As far as the rest of the note, it looks like some Communist official wrote it.

          • I'm a private citizen, Dot – nobody sends me "talking points". This was just a rumour, and the "pitch-perfect" bit was my own humorous embellishment. The absurdity was intentional.

          • So then, maybe the original shooting was in order, non-messenger. ;-)

          • OK. I now admit I didn't see the satire.

            Good one. Fooled me.

          • Sometimes I'm much too subtle. ;-)

          • And sometimes very partisan…provides subtle cover.

  13. Is that Alfred Hitchcock in that picture?

  14. Either that picture accompanying the article is of a sad owl or Canada has its very own "Balloon Boy".