Man­darin makes Cana­dian diplo­mat’s China jour­ney easy

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By MEI JIA mei­jia@chi­

Guy Saint-Jacques, Cana­dian am­bas­sador to China, is an old hand when it comes to the coun­try.

So talk­ing to him can feel like chat­ting with an old friend.

The con­ver­sa­tion flows seam­lessly be­tween di­verse top­ics— from the late Cana­dian physi­cian Nor­man Bethune’s help to China in ear­lier decades to the ori­gin of the diplo­mat’s Chi­nese name, Zhao Pu.

The name was given by his Man­darin teacher in the 1980s at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong, where Saint-Jacques en­rolled dur­ing a di­plo­matic stint. For the brief­ness of his given name, Guy, the teacher sug­gested the Chi­nese char­ac­ter pu.

“It’s very good for a diplo­mat — hum­ble, sim­ple and that de­scribes me well,” Sain­tJac­ques says.

Saint-Jacques has spent 13 years in Bei­jing and Hong Kong.

Be­fore his post­ing as am­bas­sador here, the Cana­dian news­pa­per Globe and Mail said he was among the few high-rank­ing Cana­dian diplo­mats who spoke Man­darin.

Saint-Jacques says his Man­darin has made him a “bet­ter” am­bas­sador. He re­calls that in 2012, when he was pre­sent­ing his cre­den­tials to then-Chi­nese pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao, he was of­fered eight min­utes for the meet­ing. But as he spoke in Chi­nese he gained more time with Hu, saved from the lack of trans­la­tion.

And on CCTV, where an an­nual pro­gram for am­bas­sadors sees them pro­mot­ing their coun­tries to Chi­nese in­vestors, Saint-Jacques makes the most of the few min­utes he gets on air by speak­ing Chi­nese.

“I sweated so much to learn the lan­guage, and if I have the ad­van­tage, I will use it ev­ery time.”

Saint-Jacques got his de­gree in ge­ol­ogy from the Univer­sity of Mon­treal in 1974, and a master’s in land plan­ning and re­gional devel­op­ment from Laval Univer­sity in1976. Ayear later, he joined Canada’s for­eign min­istry and his post­ings have taken him to the United States, Mex­ico, Bri­tain and China.

He says his fas­ci­na­tion with China goes back to his univer­sity days, but his first post­ing in Africa saw him make a num­ber of friends among Chi­nese diplo­mats there.

“You have to hope that life will be a suc­ces­sion of happy co­in­ci­dences,” he says, adding that he and his wife, Sylvie, had wanted to come to China for a long time.

Af­ter learn­ing Man­darin in Hong Kong for two years, he ar­rived in Bei­jing in 1984, where he was sta­tioned un­til 1987.

“When I left in 1987, it (China) was a very poor coun­try. And I still have the bi­cy­cle that I used to go to work then,” he re­calls.

He re­turned with his fam­ily in 1995, and found Bei­jing tobe a com­pletely dif­fer­ent place.

This con­firmed the suc­cess of the eco­nomic re­form that has led to the un­leash­ing of the po­ten­tial of en­trepreneurs and helped to lift China and its peo­ple’s liv­ing stan­dards, he says.

“There are no other ex­am­ples in the world.”

To him, Bei­jing has be­come a very mod­ern city with vis­i­ble cre­ativ­ity and open­ness. The Chi­nese mid­dle class has more money and is be­com­ing more so­phis­ti­cated in taste.

Saint-Jacques has wit­nessed and ex­pe­ri­enced the deep­en­ing of ties be­tween his coun­try and China that are not just close trade part­ners. They cel­e­brated the 45th an­niver­sary of di­plo­matic re­la­tions last year.

He es­ti­mates that 500,000 Chi­nese vis­ited Canada and more than 600,000 Cana­di­ans vis­ited China in 2015.

“One of the best ways to know each other and to de­velop the re­la­tion­ship is to an­chor peo­ple-to-peo­ple ex­changes,” he says. “Ed­u­ca­tion and tourism are two main ways.”

Ac­cord­ing to him, there are more than 500 aca­demic ex­change pro­grams be­tween uni­ver­si­ties in the two coun­tries.

In 2014, Canada be­came the first West­ern coun­try to of­fer 10-year mul­ti­ple-en­try visas to Chi­nese ci­ti­zens. He says there will be more air links be­tween the two coun­tries and more Cana­dian visa cen­ters in China.

As part of the on­go­ing se­ries of events re­lated to the Chi­naCanada year of cul­tural ex­changes that be­gan in 2015, the am­bas­sador has been to Yu­gong Yis­han bar in Bei­jing, where he joined a young au­di­ence to watch a per­for­mance by Cana­dian singer Felix Dy­otte in March.

Saint-Jacques has a pref­er­ence for Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture and films. He is also a reader of classical works as well as works by No­bel win­ner Mo Yan and the crime novelist He Ji­a­hong.

He also goes to the gy­mand en­joys sports, but hasn’t fos­tered a taste for bai­jiu (white liquor) yet. “I’m con­vinced that bai­jiu is used in rock­ets to put satel­lites into or­bits,” he jokes.

Speak­ing of links be­tween the two coun­tries, he says there are 1.4 mil­lion Cana­di­ans of Chi­nese ori­gin.

“So there are a lot of fam­ily links be­tween the two coun­tries.”


Guy Saint-Jacques has spent 13 years in Bei­jing and Hong Kong.

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