Dr John Higginbotham, who was a senior Canadian diplomat whose career included several tours in China and a stint as a very senior official (Assistant Deputy Minister for Policy Development) in the foreign affairs department has weighed in, in an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, on John McCallum’s problems in Canada and China. “Don’t blame John McCallum,” he says, because “Making a couple of Chinese diplomats persona non grata, joining forces with the United States on its new China policy and banning Huawei now … [which, as I have suggested, is an alternative] … would have been smarter … [and. he adds] … Our current China crisis is systemic as well as accidental. Canada’s vulnerabilities to Chinese and American pressures are deeply embedded and largely self-created. Over the long term, strengthened self-reliant economic development policies (à la Pierre Trudeau’s Third Option) … [which I have also discussed] … and serious security policies … [one of my main, recurring, themes] … should underpin a new Canadian China narrative, as globalist visions dissolve in the acid of the new geopolitics.“
John Higginbotham gives a brief summary of Sino-Canada relations from Pierre Trudeau’s (good) decision or recognize China in 1970 through to Jean Chrétien’s several ‘Team Canada’ trade missions to China which he (Higginbotham) says resulted in the situation wherein “as Canada rebuilt its China policy, trade became all important, with politically popular Team Canada pageants uncritically encouraging private-sector linkages with Chinese entities more interested in technological transfer than importing goods … [and] … Since then, despite many worthy efforts, Canada has run bigger and bigger trade deficits with China with modest export and investment growth in comparison with our competitors. Our China political debate has deteriorated into scoreboards of trade agreements signed, not results achieved.“
Dr Higginbotham also blames people (like me, I guess) who, he says, “Under-weighting China’s history … trusted China would indeed abandon its totalitarian politics for enlightened democracy and recognize that its deeply self-reliant economic development strategy was a dead end.” In my own defence, I never expected China to become an “enlightened democracy,” I have explained, over the years, that China seeks a way to make one-party rule a permanent part China’s political landscape but, also, to find some way for that one party to gauge and even anticipate public opinion. But I did, and still do believe that the best way to accommodate China’s rise, which I regard as doing more good than harm, is to engage it, even to ensnare it in the web of, broadly, liberal, global institutions, like the WTO, that President Trump wants to emasculate.
The problems and the solutions
Let’s look, just a wee bit closer at John Higginbotham’s key points; Canada, this Trudeau regime, in particular but, to be clear, not only this, current government, has, he says:
- “Run bigger and bigger trade deficits with China;” and
- Allowed “Our China political debate [to deteriorate] into scoreboards of trade agreements signed, not results achieved.”
To get out of that he suggests that we must:
- Have “strengthened self-reliant economic development policies,” which actually means that a lot of Canadian politicians, Conservatives and Liberals alike, need to think a bit more like Donald J Trump and make better, more advantageous trade deals; and
- Rebuild our diplomatic and military services so that we can show the whole world, allies and competitors alike, “serious security policies,” which implies ones made by adults in the foreign affairs and defence departments and the Privy Council Office, not by the juvenile, but very successful, political operatives in the PMO; and, further
- Enunciate “a new Canadian China narrative … [which is needed] … as globalist visions dissolve in the acid of the new geopolitics.“
So, what to do about it?
I have dealt with all these topics and, at the risk of repeating myself, we need:
- A government that will pursue free(er) trade deals ~ bearing in mind that acceptable deals are always (at least) two sided and almost always involve some ‘give and take’ and, therefore, we must recognize that in any trade deal a lot of Canadians are going to win a little (usually almost imperceptible) bit, each, but a few are going to lose rather a lot. On balance, the country, as a whole, almost always benefits from free(er) trade ~ that data is clear and unarguable, expect by the terminally bloody stupid ~ but some individuals also lose and governments must recognize and acknowledge that and take some remedial measures;
- A government that will take foreign and defence policy seriously, for the first time since 2012, and that will rebuild the Triple A+ armed forces that are appropriate to and affordable by a G7 country, and the sort of world beating diplomatic service that Canada had in the past. That’s going to cost tens of billions of dollars, year after year after year and those dollars need to be found without major tax increases, too; and
- An intellectual community, (call it the “chattering classes” or the “commentariat” if you like) both inside, or sponsored by, and away from government, that will make the case for globalization, free(er) trade and against the strategies of both Donald J Trump and Xi Jinping. They need to make the case for Canada, once again, to be a leading middle power.
There is plenty of blame to go round regarding the current Sino-Canadian imbroglio, some, and a bit of it does need to be shouldered by John McCallum, but, in the main, the fault must lie squarely on the shoulders of Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland who, jointly, have demonstrated that they are unfit to lead Canada in this complex and increasingly dangerous world. Both need to be sent to political oblivion in the 2019 election.