Dealing with China

So, Justin Trudeau is off to China:


I have argued, before, that a free(er) trade deal with China is in everyone’s better interests, but then I also argue that free(er) trade, in general, is in everyone’s better interests, so why would China be different?

Well, China is different … we, most of us, don’t understand how different it is but it’s more than just language or population or geography or history … it’s an amalgam of all those things and hundreds, thousands more.

It would be really helpful if Justin Trudeau was familiar with this …

… it’s Sun Tzu’s famous, time tested and battle proven, “Art of War.” I guarantee that his hosts are all not just familiar with it, most can recite its main precepts. Those same leaders think that “war” goes well beyond battles and soldiers and they believe the principles of the “art” of war extend to international relations, including trade and diplomacy.

Most “experts” think that a Canada-China Free(er) Trade deal would be beneficial, and some are hopeful that Prime Minister Trudeau will build on the good, solid work done by Prime Minister Harper’s government to broaden and deepen trade ties with China, but all must appreciate that relations with China are complex:

  • First, there are deep cultural differences that makes even diplomatic discourse more difficult than with countries as foreign as, say, Armenia, Brazil or Cameroon;
  • Second, it is not a relationship between equals, not even near equals. The Chinese are even more conscious of their enormous size, power and influence than are the Americans; and
  • Third, both sides are myopic … just like us, the Chinese want to see the world through one, single, clear (to them) lens.

Prime Minister Trudeau needs to read more than just Sun Tzu, he also needs to remember British politician George Macartney’s mission to China in 1792. The lesson from 1792 is that we need to show China all the respect that its status as a great power requires, but, no matter what the emperor demands, we must never kowtow


1297843406365_ORIGINAL… but it is kowtowing that many people accused Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion of doing when visiting Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi berated a Canadian journalist, in Canada, for being “irresponsible” when she asked about Canadian citizen Kevin Garratt who is in a Chinese prison facing espionage charges. I think that Minister Wang did what many very senior Chinese officials do, as a matter of course, he pushed a bit (some would say a lot) beyond the normal “standards” of diplomatic practice to “test” his opposite number. Not surprisingly, Stéphane Dion failed the test. It was the sort of thing about which even Queen Elizabeth complained and it is something right out of “The Art of War.”

Prime Minister Harper must learn that he needs to be polite, a good guest, as Minister Wang was not, but he must not allow himself to be bullied.

Prime Minister Trudeau must, of course, “play” to the Canadian, not the Chinese, media … and the Sun, the Star and the Globe and the Citizen, the Colonist and the Standard all want imageto hear that he upbraided the Chinese on human rights and that he asked for the release of Canadians being held in Chinese custody and so on. He should do all that, but in private, when he meets with Premier Li Keqiang and Paramount Leader Xi Jinping, and then talk, discretely, about it with journalists on the trip home. It is not a good policy to say and do things, when visiting China, that might make your Chinese hosts “lose face” in their own country … that’s just diplomacy 101. While he’s in China he needs to be selling the advantages of free(er) trade with Canada … under mutually beneficial terms. The Chinese want what we have on offer and we should want to sell to them (and buy from them, too … it’s a “deal” remember, and in a good deal both sides get what they really need but they give something, too) but he cannot cave in to every Chinese demand. The Chinese will, for example, likely, demand that we build a pipeline to a Pacific port. We should do that, but, given our laws and our politics, it is not something that any Canadian prime minister can guarantee as part of a foreign trade deal.

The broad, strategic goal for everyone in the West, including Canada, ought to be to bring China into the peaceful, cooperative family of peaceful, open, free(er) trading nations. The Chinese have a price. One part of that price if a public display of, at least, respect from world leaders like Prime Minister Trudeau. The Chinese would like to have deference, and they will get that from some; Canada is a G7 country (and Canada should push to expand the G7 to the G9 with both China and India as members), by almost every important ranking Canada is a “top ten” nation and, by virtual all measures in the top 10% of nations; we need not defer to China now should we ever kowtow.


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