Entering the dragon’s den
If Justin Trudeau was embarrassed to return empty-handed 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 free-trade 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.