Trudeau’s em­brace of China ex­poses his naïveté

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - GLOBE FOCUS | OPINION - DAVID MUL­RONEY Pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of St. Michael’s Col­lege and a for­mer am­bas­sador to China


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.

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 it is far from clear Cana­di­ans share his en­thu­si­asm for a world that is more China-cen­tric.

While these are early days, our emerg­ing China pol­icy 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.

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 rose­c­oloured 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.

And 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Pierre Trudeau had to ac­knowl­edge that nos­tal­gia is no ba­sis for for­eign pol­icy; Justin Trudeau needs to un­der­stand that nei­ther is naïveté.

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