David Mulroney, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and a former Ambassador of Canada to the People’s Republic of China from 2009 to 2012, has written a provocative article in the Globe and Mail about what he sees as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s naive approach to China.
(Mr Mulroney is an Ottawa insider: Prior to serving in Beijing, he was assigned to the Privy Council Office in Ottawa as the Deputy Minister responsible for the Afghanistan Task Force, overseeing inter-departmental coordination of all aspects of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan. He also served as Secretary to the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan (“the Manley Panel”). Prior to that he was a career foreign service officer who served as Associate Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs (pretty close to the very top of the bureaucratic heap in Canada) and, concurrently, as the Prime Minister’s Personal Representative to the G8 Summit. Immediately prior to that, he served as Foreign and Defence Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister of Canada. He was, also, Canada’s Senior Official for Asia Pacific Cooperation (APEC) and served in Canadian missions (embassies and high commissions) in Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and Seoul.)
He opens his article by saying that “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new foreign-policy team has what it takes to ramp up our trade and economic relationship with China. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who is China-friendly, brings a creative policy mind and a wealth of blue-chip international connections to her new assignment. John McCallum will arrive as our ambassador in Beijing with impressive credentials as an economist and as the minister responsible for two major portfolios – National Defence and Immigration – with significant international dimensions … [and] … Some observers are even suggesting the current Prime Minister is trying to forge with China the kind of Third Option that his father, Pierre Trudeau, tried but failed to put in place with Europe in the 1970s. For Mr. Trudeau, the idea was to get out from under the economic and cultural domination of the United States by encouraging deeper economic links with Europe. As we enter the Donald Trump era, it is easy to understand why Justin Trudeau might be interested in reviving the idea, with a rising China as the partner of choice.“
But, he cautions, Canadians are, by and large, wary about closer relations with China.
“Our emerging China policy,” he warns, “appears to be hostage to two familiar and misguided tendencies. The first is to focus on only one aspect of modern China’s complicated identity. The government seems smitten with the dynamic, entrepreneurial and innovative China that dominates the business pages, while remaining largely silent about the China that tramples human rights at home and intimidates rivals abroad. This is more than morally repugnant. Countries that flout laws and stifle the free exchange of ideas make for dubious business partners … [and] … The second problematic tendency involves falling prey to an enduring and particularly Canadian naïveté about China and its ruling Communist Party. Pierre Trudeau flirted with a rose-coloured interpretation of Mao Zedong and his legacy, but was sufficiently worldly to keep it in check. That’s more of a struggle for Justin Trudeau, who was rightly criticized for comments glossing over the impact of dictatorship in China.“
“One of the 100 women who paid $250 to get into the Ladies Night with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau Thursday had a doozy for him. It went like this: “Which nation, besides Canada, which nation’s administration do you most admire, and why?”
It took Trudeau a minute to consider the question … [but] … the question at hand [was] which country’s government does the Liberal Party’s candidate for prime minister in 2015 most admire?
Trudeau’s answer: “You know, there’s a level of of admiration I actually have for China …”
Hold it right there.
Where the administration routinely administers capital punishment. And when I say routinely, I mean 10 a day or more than 3,000 a year, many of them ethnic minorities like the Uighurs of northwestern China. Where human rights are routinely violated, where political corruption is endemic, and where political rights are nearly non-existent. That China?
“You know, there’s a level of of admiration I actually have for China because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy around on a dime and say ‘we need to go green fastest . . . we need to start investing in solar.’ I mean there is a flexibility that I know Stephen Harper must dream about of having a dictatorship that he can do everything he wanted that I find quite interesting.”
Well, that’s clear. The “basic dictatorship” of China is to be admired for its environmental record. Solar panels and all that.”
Mr Mulroney goes on to say that “Far from sending an early signal that national security always takes precedence over business deals, the government recently reopened consideration of a Chinese acquisition in Canada’s high-tech sector that the Harper government had blocked. More worrying, the Prime Minister’s presence at a fundraiser involving wealthy Chinese business people seemed to suggest that we are as willing to bend the rules as China is … [and, while] … The notion of a Third Option with Europe was at least partly based on confidence in our deep and broadly based complementarity. The idea was that economic opportunities would flourish in a context of common values, shared international commitments and similar institutions. But the proposal foundered because the economic advantage of our proximity to the United States overwhelmed the fondest dreams of the Third Option proponents … [but] … The idea of a Third Option with China is, if anything, more deeply flawed. It isn’t just that trade with China, while promising, is still only about 10 per cent of what flows across the Canada-U.S. border, but that there is an almost complete lack of complementarity at the level of values, laws and institutions … [and] … Here, the current Prime Minister may be hostage to his contention that we are a country without a core identity. Not only does this ignore our history, but it is fundamentally at odds with how Canadians see themselves and the world around them. It is why they express such deep and persistent reservations about establishing closer links with China, a country that does not respect the rule of law, or basic freedoms for artists, journalists, ethnic minorities and religious believers.“
“China is a tremendously important country,” David Mulroney concludes, “and we absolutely need to get the relationship right. But we can’t get it right if we’re not clear about who we are and what we stand for … [and] … Pierre Trudeau had to acknowledge that nostalgia is no basis for foreign policy; Justin Trudeau needs to understand that neither is naïveté.“
The key point is that “we’re not clear about who we are and what we stand for.” I’m pretty sure that Justin Trudeau, a nice, likeable, but narrow and shallow young man knows (and cares) very little about Canada. I used to complain that his father wasn’t really a Canadian: he was, in fact, more of a European who chose Canada because it was, intellectually, easier and more pleasant to be a big fish in our small pond than a small pond in Europe’s bigger pond. I was never much impressed by Pierre Trudeau’s intellect: it always seemed to me that my Great Aunt Florence’s overweight house cat could make a cogent argument against Maurice Duplessis, which is how Pierre Trudeau gained a measure of fame and political office. I am less impressed with Justin Trudeau’s intellect nor am I happy with the gravitas or political and policy judgment of the team around him in the PMO.
I am one of those who favours better, strong trade and political links with China. I believe that China is likely to remain a dictatorship and a regional bully, but I do not regard it as a significant threat to peace unless someone overreacts. But I worried, back in August, when Prime Minister Trudeau went to China because I suspect that he (and his team) do not think deeply enough about “who we are and what we stand for” or even about what we want to gain from free(er) trade and closer ties with China.
We want, as I have said over and over and over again, two things:
- Peace; and
- Prosperity; and
I have also explained, over and over again, that the two are interlinked and one reinforces the other. We want to trade more and more freely with China because we want both countries to prosper because we know, from any fair reading of history, that prosperous people are unwilling to go to war over trivial matters.
I am not afraid of China, but I am afraid of Justin Trudeau’s naïveté because I believe it could lead us to make bad deals that serve neither peace nor prosperity.