Be­ware of en­ter­ing this dragon’s den

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

If Justin Trudeau was em­bar­rassed to re­turn emp­ty­handed from his highly touted trip to China this week, the rest of Canada should feel re­lieved.

We may have just es­caped be­ing scorched by a dragon.

The prime min­is­ter had trav­elled half­way around the world in hopes of of­fi­cially an­nounc­ing the start of free-trade talks be­tween the two coun­tries. It didn’t hap­pen, and thank good­ness for Canada.

What would have been spun as a po­lit­i­cal coup for Trudeau would have been a dan­ger­ous sou­venir for this coun­try.

China is not only a coun­try we should want as a friend, it is also, to be blunt, an au­thor­i­tar­ian bully we should fear. Yes, it’s in our in­ter­est to en­gage with it. With the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment and Canada’s trade with the United States in the crosshairs of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, we need new op­por­tu­ni­ties with other trad­ing part­ners.

As the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy and one hun­gry for the nat­u­ral re­sources and agri­cul­tural prod­ucts Canada has to of­fer, China is an al­lur­ing can­di­date for a closer business relationship.

But while Canada has much to gain in in­creas­ing trade with China, it has more to lose.

It’s hard enough to rene­go­ti­ate a decades-old free­trade deal with the U.S., a coun­try that, what­ever its flaws, shares our re­spect for democ­racy, the rule of law and in­di­vid­ual rights and free­doms.

China re­spects none of these val­ues. It sneers at democ­racy as a feck­less West­ern af­fec­ta­tion.

It takes pride in the eco­nomic, diplo­matic and mil­i­tary ex­pan­sion se­cured by a one-party dic­ta­tor­ship led by the most pow­er­ful person on the planet — Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, who reigns above the rule of law.

It is a state-driven econ­omy, where a small num­ber of peo­ple, nearly all men, strictly and some­times forcibly, con­trol the lives of 1.4 bil­lion Chi­nese. And it holds it­self up as the world’s fu­ture. Given such bru­tal re­al­i­ties, Trudeau’s no­tion of in­clud­ing chap­ters on labour, gen­der and en­vi­ron­men­tal rights in any deal with China seems naïve.

China’s lead­ers, as they showed with their curt and cool treat­ment of Trudeau this week, were not amused by those chap­ters, ei­ther.

We hope Trudeau has re­turned a sad­der but wiser man.

Cana­di­ans al­ready do sig­nif­i­cant business with China, as the high num­ber of made-in-China prod­ucts in most Cana­dian house­holds will at­test.

If China wants greater free­dom to in­vest in Canada, it must be pre­pared to open up to more Cana­dian in­vest­ment within its bor­ders.

If it wants greater ac­cess ei­ther to our nat­u­ral re­sources or our ad­vanced tech­no­log­i­cal com­pa­nies, it must be ready to as­sure us that the rights of our cit­i­zens and the se­cu­rity of Canada and its al­lies will not be com­pro­mised.

If the two coun­tries are not ready to even talk about such a deal, so be it. Cana­di­ans can give it more time, thought and de­bate.

While they do, Trudeau should fo­cus on wrap­ping up the more likely Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade deal with closer and more com­pat­i­ble na­tions such as Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Ja­pan.

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