Opinion | Saturday’s debate: Has Canada’s relationship with China been damaged too much?

“It is important to emphasize that the capture of (Michael) Kovrig and (Michael) Spavor was not a mere bump in the road in our relationship with China,” he writes. J. Michael Cole. “Business as usual with China will make us complicit in creating a world in which the space for human rights, freedom and democracy is reduced.” On the other hand, Canada-China relations are at their lowest level in 50 years, yet 61 percent of Canadians believe that “Canada can engage economically with China while maintaining a hard line in areas of disagreement.” , writes. Sarah Kutulakos. “Repairing the relationship depends on two things: pursuing Canada’s interests and resuming communication channels.”


J. Michael Cole

Senior Fellow of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the Global Taiwan Institute

The return last month of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, held hostage for more than 1,000 days by China, has come as a great relief to Canada. However, the idea that their release from captivity means a return to normalcy in relations between Canada and China would be as reckless as it is dangerous.

Even before Beijing kidnapped two of our own, it was clear that Xi Jinping’s China was an anomaly in the international system, a rising power with the unprecedented ability to cause serious damage to the values ​​that have underpinned our nation. world since the end of the Second World. War.

During the time between the capture and release of Kovrig and Spavor, China has only grown more repressive, more Orwellian, and more self-assured in its ambition to reshape the world to make it more hospitable to undemocratic regimes.

It is important to emphasize that the capture of Kovrig and Spavor was not a mere bump in the road in our relationship with China. Rather, this incident was a symptom, an almost inevitable offshoot, of the kind of regime we are now forced to deal with.

Under Xi, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has tightened its grip on all aspects of Chinese society through a combination of pernicious ideology, excessive paranoia, and censorship directed not only at critics of the regime but at its most absurd iterations. like Banning male entertainers who are considered too “effeminate” from acting on television.

Xi, who has made the party-state a personal instrument to achieve his own Mao-style ambitions, has unleashed forces that threaten a second Cultural Revolution.

More worrisome still, Xi and his CCP have successfully presented this phased assault on freedoms in China, to which we must add the neutralization of Hong Kong and the brutal repression in Tibet and Xinjiang, as necessary measures to defend China against all the enemies, nationals and foreigners. , and making the “dream of China” a reality, an ultra-nationalist goal that aims to regain some mythologized past glory.

Meanwhile, China continues to threaten its immediate region with a more assertive military, including its little neighbor Taiwan, Asia’s most vibrant democracy. In recent days, China has sent an unprecedented number of nuclear-capable fighter jets and bombers to Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone to try to intimidate the country.

Within international institutions, Chinese diplomats have used their influence to co-opt officials and, in many cases, to rewrite the rules in ways that often violate the spirit in which those bodies were created. Beijing argues that it only ensures that such organizations are best suited to meet the demands of the 21st century, a claim that would be true if we all admitted that our current century should be characterized by rampant oppression and injustice.

As a country that prides itself on its pursuit of liberal democratic ideals, Canada cannot, in conscience, pretend that it is dealing with a normal country when it comes to Xi’s China, or that, through deeper engagement, we can somehow convince Beijing to reverse course.

To believe today that such a result is possible is absolutely naive. Indeed, continuing as usual with China will make us complicit in creating a world in which the space for human rights, freedom and democracy is reduced. And in our interconnected world, it would be foolish to pretend that geographic distance would somehow insulate us from its dire effects.

China made significant progress due to the pandemic and the moment of neglect that paralyzed much of the democratic world in recent years. But the pendulum is now swinging in the opposite direction, and the world’s democracies are now beginning to recede.

Canada has an important decision to make. It is a choice that will define who we are: a people who believe that the world is what we make it, or a cynic who resigns to forces that we believe cannot be counteracted. That choice will depend on how we, the people and our government, decide how to deal with the Chinese party-state that is the greatest challenge of this century.

J. Michael Cole is a Taipei-based senior fellow of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and the Global Taiwan Institute. He is a former analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in Ottawa.

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Sarah Kutulakos

Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Canada China Business Council

Canada’s relationship with China is damaged. The detention of each of the other’s citizens has frozen bilateral relations since the end of 2018. The marked difference in the conditions of the detainees highlighted the vast difference between the two systems, which contributes to raising public opinion in China. be record.

With the release of Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor and Meng Wanzhou, a major barrier to the resumption of the relationship disappears. This does not mean that a new normal is quick and that the old normal never returns.

When it comes to the economic relationship, Canadians tend to be more pragmatic. In a recent survey by the Canada China Business Council (CCBC) -Ipsos, 67 percent of respondents said that exports of services, such as education or tourism, are important because they foster better understanding and more economic opportunities.

61% believe Canada can compromise economically with China while maintaining a hard line in areas of disagreement, such as human rights. An upcoming CCBC report on the economic value of China to Canada highlights how lesser-recognized relationship elements such as immigration and education bring billions of dollars in annual GDP to Canada.

Repairing the relationship depends on two things: pursuing Canadian interests and resuming channels of communication.

We often hear that Canada is a trading nation. What does this mean? Canada’s 66 percent trade-to-GDP ratio places us behind only Germany among the G7 economies. We are dependent on trade, but we do not want overdependence on any one trading partner.

The United States, which buys 74 percent of our exports, will always be the easiest and the most aligned. China buys 4.8 percent of our exports, so we’re certainly not overly reliant on China, but according to the IMF, it has contributed and will continue to contribute a third of global GDP growth in the future.

The Chinese middle class wants foreign goods and services, so growing exports benefit Canada. The Meng-Michaels saga has prompted some companies to look elsewhere for growth. However, surrogate markets, such as India, with only 0.7% of 2020 exports, are far behind, making diversification a long-term proposition. As is the bilateral relationship.

Last year marked 50 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and China and those decades have seen ebbs and flows. While the current ebb is the lowest, we will get out. The key to resuming more normal relationships is commitment. Frozen mechanisms must be resumed at all levels.

For companies, the resumption of the annual Strategic Economic and Financial Dialogue (EFSD) between Canada and China is crucial. TO recent audit The analogous dialogue between the United States and China showed that the United States, which is currently in its own ebbing relationship (but sent 8.7 percent of its exports to China, almost double that of Canada), determined that the dialogue it served the interests of the United States.

Benefit areas included macroeconomic stability, greater transparency and protection of rights, public health management, climate change / clean energy, and security cooperation. The process regularized the prioritization of policies and decision-making; it also addressed the asymmetries between the two bureaucracies, which allowed the interests of the United States to advance. The more different countries are, the more they need those mechanisms, which are key for Canada to be able to express its differences with China, while focusing on complementary areas.

By resuming the dialogue, we make slow and steady progress in repairing the relationship. We can resolve pressing issues, such as the canola dispute, and advance other aspects of the relationship that will help Canada advance its prosperity as a trading nation and its value as a multilateral player.

As much as Canada was the metaphorical meat in a sandwich between the United States and China about Meng and the two Michaels, Canada will remain in the midst of a major power competition, in which China aggressively projects its power and the United States does everything possible to prevent the rise of China. .

Rest assured, the United States will look out for your interests along the way. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai highlighted this week that “China made commitments to benefit certain US industries, including agriculture, that we must enforce,” and that the world’s two largest economies would be “reconnecting.” instead of dissociating.

Indeed, the United States’ implementation of its phase one trade agreement may come at the expense of Canadian agricultural exports to China. Australia, which has asserted its interests and taken unpopular positions against China, has nonetheless continued to increase exports to China, with mid-2021 values ​​reaching record levels. Both countries demonstrate the ability to “walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Canada can do it too. China will continue to rise, and Canada will best benefit from repairing the relationship to ensure that its promotion serves Canada’s interests, rather than ceding them to like-minded competing countries.

Sarah Kutulakos is Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Canada China Business Council.


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