David Mulroney, a former career foreign service officer whose career included a tour (2009-2012) as Canada’s ambassador to China, says, on social media that: “The key to a successful China policy is connectedness, something governments find hard to achieve. We finally have to understand that China is an economic power but also an expansionist, interfering, hostage-taking, human-rights-abusing hostile power … [and] … That argues for a tough, limited and carefully managed policy, requiring vision, discipline and leadership. It also entails being guided by facts (the hard lessons that China’s visiting on us), speaking clearly about what’s happening, forging smart partnerships …[but] … The China lobby will argue for a “compartmentalized” policy that involves focusing heavily on trade, speaking piously about the bad things, but looking the other way as China steadily limits our autonomy and brings us closer into its orbit.” That, it seems to me, is as clear, concise and accurate a statement of the problem and solution as one is ever likely to find.
Let’s get the three points:
- We need to “connect” with China in a clear-eyed, clear headed way. We need to recognize China;s strengths and its potential as a trading partner but, at the same time we need to understand how China operates … and it is nothing like the way Western liberal-democracies operate;
- Canada needs a “tough [but] limited [and] carefully managed policy, requiring vision discipline an d leadership” from our policy makers. Sadly, it seems to me, we have a policy team, at the top, that is weak, lacks vision and discipline and is I thrall to the China lobby; and
- That China lobby is, already, arguing for a policy of ” compartmentalization” which says that we appease China in all things in order to gain market access.
The China lobby about which Mr Mulroney writes in clues e.g. big names in Canadian business and industry like the Power Corporation and former Prime. Minister Jean Chrétien. Mr Mulroney, himself, was part of it in the 1990s …. and he was in good company. Most leaders in government and business felt, in the 1990s, that China’s rise as a good thing and leaders like Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao soothed us all into a sense of security.
They weren’t denying the fact that China had ambitions to be a global superpower but they were not announcing it, either. Deng’s dictum was “hide you ambitions and disguise your claws.” Some people think he meant that “China should devote its energy to developing economically and not concern itself so much with international affairs,” but that’s not what he said. He said that China should have global ambitions but it should hide them and give the outward appearance of being concernded, primarily, with trade. Xi Jinping is NOT being untrue not Deng’s principle, but he has decided that the time for hiding and disguising has passed.
Many, many leaders in the US-led West decided, about 20 years ago, that America was in decline and that its decline was irreversible and that China would, inevitably, rise and become THE global superpower. They may be right … the operative word is “may.” There is a general theory, based in large part of Paul Kennedy’s ideas in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers that each great power gets to rise and then falls and never rises again. Professor Kennedy looked at Europe from about 1500 (although he did make passing references to Ming Dynasty China and the Mughal Empire) and his model has remained highly influential. So, if it was America’s turn to decline, given that Europe and Russia had already done so, that left only China to assume the mantle of global leadership. So, at least, said many, many American, British, Canadian and European and Asian leaders and scholars. I think that Jean Chrétien (and his policy advisors) reached that conclusion in about 2003 when the US decided to invade Iraq. Public opinion was on his side and his “Team Canada” trips to China were wildly popular at home and in China, too.
Until about five years ago I was one of those who believed that this, the beginning of the 21st century, was China’s time to rise and and that the US-led West should and could accommodate it and that the increasing integration ~ Chimerica noted historian Niall Ferguson called it ~ would lead, inevitably to China becoming a less authoritarian country. When he came to power in 2012, I assumed that Xi Jinping might be a somewhat more efficient version of Jiang Zemin ~ so did tens of thousands of others who claim to keep an eye on China. I was wrong. Xi Jinping sees himself as a transformative leader and the transformation he intends to oversee is the one that m makes China displace America as THE global hyper-power. But I also think that although he may be a good engineer, Xi Jinping has, probably, underestimated the “events” that always creep up at the edges and sometimes directly in. the path of great plans.
Which brings us back to Mr Mulroney’s sensible prescription. Canada, and the rest of the US-led West need to stay connected to Chia; we do want to sell it what it needs and to buy what it has on offer, but our “connectiveness” must be carefully managed in our own best interests. We do not want to enable China’s expansionist, bullying, rights-abusing interference in the affairs of others. We have seen, in the beggar-thy-neighbour nature of the belt-and-road initiative, in the crackdown on Hong Kong and in the Meng/Two Michaels dispute with Canada just what kind of power China is intent on becoming, and we shouldn’t like it.
Developing the right levels of “connectiveness” will, as Mr Mulroney says, require tough, disciplined political and bureaucratic leadership. No-one blames corporations for wanting to maximize their profits but the government must look after the national interest which is not alway the same as Power Corporation‘s interests.
Finally, we, voters and taxpayers must understand that our interests and the interests of the Chrétien, Desmarais, Rae and Trudeau families are not always coincidental.