I don’t agree with him, either, but …

… there are, always, two sides to every argument.

My view is that free(er) trade, with pretty much all comers ~ all those willing to work within a rules based system ~ is a good thing because I am quite firmly wedded to the notion that free(er0 trade is a key to the virtuous circle of peace and prosperity. Not everyone shares that view and the contrary opinion, at least in so far as free(er) trade with China is concerned is made by veteran journalist Jonathan Manthorpe in an article in iPolitics who begins by saying that “Canada’s approach to China has always been marked by arrogance and a self-defeating air of moral superiority … [while] … China, on the other hand — and especially since the Communist Party came to power in 1949 — has had a very clear idea of what Canada is worth and how easily it is duped … [and] … For well over a decade, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has been doing its best to warn successive Ottawa governments and the public about the infiltration of Canadian institutions by agents of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the party’s quest to influence public life … [and] … hosts of other people — outside the magic circle of the upper echelons of the Liberal party and its blood brothers and sisters in the Canada-China Business Council — have warned that there is no compatibility between Canada’s view of the world and that of the CCP. All to no avail.” I don’t disagree but I would point out that before the security services began to warn us about China they issued similar warnings about others, including others who were  presumptive friends and allies and, in one case, a founding nation. It never stopped the Laurentian Elites, for whom Mr Manthorpe has long (and eloquently) spoken from wanting free(er) trade with France, not even when General deGaulle tried to destabilize Canada.

But,” Mr Manthorpe goes on to say, “there is no credible, conceivable scenario which would see such a pact benefit Canadians. The CCP is never going to allow Canadian businesses to have significant access to its market, whatever the agreement may say … [because] … The trade imbalance now sees China selling Canada $64 billion in goods a year, with only $20 billion in Canadian goods going the other way. An FTA would only widen that disparity …[and] … More than that, China will insist on unimpeded access for its investments in the Canadian economy, especially by its state-owned enterprises. At the same time, the CCP will make darned sure Canadian investors never get a foot in the door in China … [therefore] … there might be cause for relief that Justin Trudeau’s poorly-managed trip to Beijing this week did not immediately fire the starter’s gun on bilateral free trade talks after his meeting with Premier Li Keqiang on Monday.” I don’t agree, even though I do accept some of his thesis about what China will want … I think Canadian officials (not politicians like Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland and François-Philippe Champagne) are a lot smarter and tougher than Jonathan Manthorpe gives them credit for being.

Mr Manthorpe provides some very useful background to support his view that “The best hope is that Trudeau sticks to his guns on his “progressive trade agenda” — and that Li continues to tell him to get lost.” He explains that “Trudeau’s insistence, so far, on tying into trade pacts agreed policies on gender, the environment and labour is a modernization of the social gospel of the United Church which infused the Liberal party and the Department of External Affairs in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Men like Oscar Skelton and Lester B. Pearson came out of the social gospel and missionary tradition that was popular in Canadian universities when they were students … [and] … Many of the people they employed as the department was established and grew had particular links to Canada’s missionary efforts in China, from the 1880s until the CCP came to power in 1949. The number of so-called “Mish Kids” in the department in its early years was extraordinary … [further] … Indeed, Canada’s first three ambassadors to China after diplomatic relations were established in 1970 were “Mish Kids” … [but] … With this heritage came the belief that Canada, somehow, had a special responsibility to change China into a model liberal democracy, either by persuasion or example … [and, while] … Many hundreds of millions of Canadian taxpayers’ dollars have been spent by Ottawa trying to persuade the CCP to adopt democracy, the rule of law and trustworthy ways of doing business. None of it has worked.

All that these expensive exercises have achieved,” Jonathan Manthorpe says, “is to confirm that engagement with China on Canadian terms is a fool’s errand. It’s delusion of moral arrogance that has inspired generations of Canadian politicians, diplomats and businesspeople to keep banging their heads against the Great Wall … [and] … yet, as our most important partner — the United States — goes into imperial decline, Canada does need new friends and alliances. And there is nothing wrong with Trudeau’s basic notion that Canada should incorporate a common belief in our political and social values into its search for new friends … [but] … There are plenty of countries in the world that are natural candidates for a broader relationship with Canada. Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka are obvious natural allies in Asia, and others will soon qualify.

He concludes, and many will agree, that: “What Trudeau and those people around him still drinking the missionary Kool-Aid need to wrap their heads around is that China does not — and never will — fit that template. Not as long as the CCP is in power.

As I said, many will agree with Jonathan Manthorpe’s assessment (and that of William Watson in the Financial Post, too) of what happened ~ trying to engage “with China on Canadian terms is a fool’s errand,” based on a “delusion of moral arrogance that has inspired generations of Canadian politicians, diplomats and businesspeople to keep banging their heads against the Great Wall,” but, still, “there is nothing wrong with Trudeau’s basic notion that Canada should incorporate a common belief in our political and social values into its search for new friends.” In fact I expect that will be part of Team Trudeau’s mantra: Canada tried to engage on out terms but China wants too much. But while Mr Manthorpe’s first two pints are valid he jumps to an unfounded conclusion. The “basic notion” that “a common belief in our political and social values” will win us friends or trading partners is arrant nonsense. The Chinese, as Mr Watson says, will not change their ways for us …  we can negotiate rules that they are likely to obey becayse it will, normally, be in their best interests to do so … as we should know from trading with the USA, that is about the best one can expect. Justin Trudeau’s juvenile virtue signalling did not fool the Chinese … the question is: will it fool enough Canadian voters? On the evidence of recent polls my guess is: Yes!

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