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The China Challenge

Huhua Cao
Vivienne Poy

Chapter 1. Introduction: Canada’s Response to China’s Increasing Role in the World

Huhua Cao

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1The international position of the People’s Republic of China has undeniably changed since Canada became one of the first developed countries to recognize it, in 1970 (even before the People’s Republic was admitted to the United Nations). When Mao Zedong declared on October 1, 1949, that China had finally “stood up” in the world, he had underestimated his country’s potential to rise internationally. In 1949, China’s ability to stand up implied its ideological move away from capitalism as the best instrument of struggle against “imperialism” and its “defenders” (see Friedman 1994 and Kirby 1994). The autonomy of the Chinese state was a product of its ability to resist the most influential capitalist world powers. In the 1960s, autonomy went as far as resulting in China’s complete isolation from the international community, in a context where its relations with the two world superpowers were tense (see Gittings 1964, Kirby 1994, and Yahuda 1983). In no way did autonomy result in China’s ability to influence the world scene. Indeed, China was to remain far from the centre of global political interests for several more decades. Up until October 25, 1971, it was denied membership in the United Nations, while Taiwan, under the name of the Republic of China, was the sole official representative of the Chinese nation.

2During the Maoist era, one way in which the People’s Republic regained autonomy in its foreign policy was “by dealing with foreign powers individually, not as a unit” (Kirby 1994, p. 17). This strategy, among other implications, meant that ideological differences would not be the unique standard for defining the boundaries of China’s relations with foreign partners. It opened the door to the possibility that China might have privileged relationships of varying degrees with different western powers, based on each country’s ability to give and take. This strategy certainly played in favour of bilateral relations between China and Canada under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and since.

3Following thirty years of remarkable economic growth since the end of the 1970s, leading to China becoming the second largest economy in the world after the United States (see Barboza 2010), its ability to “stand up” today has a profoundly different meaning. While Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s economic reforms at the end of the 1970s, stressed that China should “maintain a low profile and never take the lead” on international matters, the country’s impressive economic growth over the past thirty years not only has changed its economic status in the world, but has also allowed the country to become a more and more important player in the process of making important political and geopolitical decisions.

4China has played a key mediation role in ensuring six-party talks to find a peaceful resolution to security concerns resulting from the determination of North Korea to develop nuclear weapons. In Central Asia, the Chinese government has been the key to the creation and hosting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) since 2001. It has also in recent years become an active participant in the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional forum, and ASEAN-plus-three. The outstanding pace at which its economy has grown has given China an important position in the G20, and has planted the seeds for a potential “G2,” comprising the United States and China. China has become a “soft power,” not in Nye’s military and security terms, but in the realms of popular culture, diplomacy and participation in multilateral organizations, as well as development aid (Kurlantzick 2007, p. 6).

5China’s presence and influence have also grown in Africa. Chinese leaders have sought to strengthen political relations with that continent by establishing the China–Africa Cooperation Forum in 2000 (Kaplinsky, McCormick, and Morris 2008, p. 14). One of the main commonalities emphasized by China in its attempt to draw African interests closer to its own has been an emphasis on their common imperialistic and neo-imperialistic enemies (Taylor 2005, p. 5). According to the China–Africa Business Council, China has become Africa’s third largest trading partner. While the value of its trade with the continent was only US$ 2 billion in 1999, by 2005 that figure had risen to US$ 39.7 billion (Taylor 2005, p. 2). As Joshua Kurlantzick (2007, p. 6) maintains, “Beijing offers the charm of a lion, not of a mouse: it can threaten other nations with these sticks if they do not help China achieve its goals, but it can offer sizeable carrots if they do.” Indeed, some countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have cut off relations with Taiwan as a result of Beijing’s “soft” influence (Kurlantzick 2007, p. 10). China is becoming more attractive than western countries as a foreign direct investor in some African countries, in part because the Chinese do not impose conditions relating to good governance and human rights. This has attracted criticism from the West, which sees China’s exclusive focus on the commercial foundations of such investment as detrimental to universally accepted norms on sustainable development and human rights. Africa could well become a new arena for economic and other forms of rivalry between China and the West.

6For Canada, bilateral relations with China between the 1970s and the 1990s may have been substantially confined to foreign policy, but China’s emerging position in the world has also had profound effects on Canada’s domestic policy. As Paul Evans (2006, p. 284) claims, the average Canadian’s “trip to the gas station reveals how China’s demand for energy is increasing prices for energy and natural resources; and a trip to the bank reveals how mortgage and interest rates are tied to China’s purchase of US securities.” Beyond the fact that China has bought a yearly minimum of US$ 80 billion worth of US government debt since 2005, the Chinese government has been crucial in the (still slow) recovery of the world economy from the recent crisis. Beijing made its largest purchase of US debt in June 2010, when the US Treasury sold China US$ 108 billion worth of Treasuries over a few days (see Kruger 2010). China’s share of US imports has increased to approximately twenty percent of the total, and China has replaced Canada as the number-one trading partner. Canada’s share of imports into the United States has fallen to fifteen percent (see Ratner 2010). Given China’s position in today’s globalized world, its financial choices undeniably have a profound effect on other countries’ financial and commercial priorities. One week before the G20 Summit in Toronto in June 2010, President Hu Jintao announced that the People’s Bank of China would interrupt the initially fixed 23-month peg in the yuan, which would allow for more flexibility in the movements of the currency (see Ratner 2010).

7The facts set out above suggest that China is no longer just an international “policy-taker,” but is increasingly playing a role as an international “policy-maker.” As Paul Evans (2006) has pointed out, policy-makers around the world have to be concerned about what Beijing will do next. Similarly, Canadian policy-makers have yet to establish a comprehensive domestic and foreign policy strategy to deal with the growing Chinese influence at the global level. The first step toward dealing with this changing global situation is to understand better how China’s identity, guiding philosophies, traditions, cultures, and domestic social, economic and political challenges affect its positions in the international community. This cannot be achieved without a close collaboration and sharing of knowledge between China scholars and Canadian policy-makers. Such collaboration may help Canada in formulating a better-grounded foreign policy strategy toward the Chinese economy. It may also help Canada to go beyond the foreign policy dead end created by an overemphasis on the social and human rights problems that still pervade Chinese society.

Redefining Canada’s Foreign Policy toward the “New” China

8The domestic challenges that the Chinese regime currently faces are numerous, and Canada may constitute a model that China may wish to examine and possibly adopt in order to address some of them.

9Income disparities in China have grown considerably since the 1980s, not only across regions and provinces, but also between urban and rural areas and across social classes (see Cao and Bergeron 2010). In the context of growing social and economic grievances, and with a judicial system that comprises an ineffective and saturated system of petitions and complaints, collective protests frequently erupt in various parts of the country. A recent case among several others was that of a workers’ strike for better work conditions at a Honda Motor Company parts factory in southern China in June 2010. Generally, despite some considerable progress with respect to citizens’ economic and social rights, China’s record on political rights has yet to improve significantly. According to the Human Rights Risk Atlas 2010, China fell to twelfth position in an index where Somalia was ranked at number one and the United States at 134.

10The protests in Xinjiang on July 5, 2009, and the ways in which the authorities have responded to popular discontent, also indicate that ethnic tension remains, and command and control tactics are still the state’s solution. While the state has manifested some signs of increasing willingness to accommodate civil society on some levels, its intentions as far as political reforms are concerned remain difficult to capture. Some legal reforms introduced since the year 2000 suggest that the government is making efforts to establish political transparency and a more rigorous rule of law, but it remains primarily concerned to maintain the survival of its own autocratic regime. In the current circumstances, democracy remains far from attainable.

11China’s environmental problems and the broader challenge of global warming have also been the target of concerns in the West. China has become the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and, although it has made a formal commitment to cut the unit GDP carbon dioxide emission level by forty percent by 2020 (see Xin 2010), the need to maintain stable growth may make this target very difficult to reach.

12The clashing positions of Canada and China on human rights in China have had a deteriorating impact on the two countries’ bilateral relations, as China is becoming more resolute about its own distinctive political positions and ideology. Following the Tiananmen Square incident in June 1989, the Chinese government’s attempts to maintain its own version of the Chinese national identity have relied upon emphasizing “Chinese values,” defined in opposition to what it depicts as Western cultural frameworks. In some cases, Chinese nationalism has been manifested in the form of anti-Americanism. The Chinese regime has reached a position of economic influence in the world that allows it to choose what it wishes to accept from western powers, and ignore what it believes it does not need. In such circumstances, a bilateral policy attempting to impose what are seen as “Western values” upon the Chinese government is unlikely to generate satisfactory outcomes for either of the two parties. Some of the values that Western countries regard as universal are not necessarily interpreted with the same degree of importance by the Chinese regime. For example, Chinese policy-makers tend to place a greater emphasis on the right of nations to achieve development than on the civil and political rights of individuals. A more constructive dialogue among Canada’s and China’s scholars and policy-makers on contentious areas such as human rights and the proper treatment of minorities may lead to a Canadian foreign policy that emphasizes the exchange of ideas on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.

13Establishing a good dialogue with China is the key condition for stable, fulfilling and profitable bilateral relations. In an attempt to explore the avenues that Ottawa might exploit in order to strengthen its ties with the People’s Republic of China, this book discusses how Canada holds the potential to overcome the foreign policy obstacles posed by ideological differences with China. The two countries have had bilateral relations based on mutual respect and solidarity ever since the time of Pierre Trudeau, but more importantly, since the 1990s Canada has cultivated privileged ties with Hong Kong. Canada is demographically advantaged to the extent that four percent of the Canadian population is of Chinese origin, and it has become an important destination and centre of interest for the Chinese diaspora. Conversely, about 300,000 Canadians live in China today, which makes Sino-Canadian economic, cultural and political relations more important than ever.

The Structure of This Book

14There are several reasons why a sustained dialogue between Canadian experts on China and practitioners is needed. First, before the 1980s, when China remained isolated from the centre of international politics, the number of China scholars was incomparably lower than that of scholars of other world regions, and the visibility of China scholarship remained severely limited. Today, as China’s position in world politics has become central, understanding China is no longer confined to academia, but is also becoming a priority among government policy analysts and policy-makers across policy areas.

15Second, in the past five years bilateral relations between China and Canada have been affected by inadequate policy-making and misunderstandings on the part of both Ottawa and Beijing. Mutually beneficial relations need to be based on well-grounded and attainable policy expectations. Due to their familiarity with Chinese culture, traditions and, in some cases, the languages, their extensive research, and their regular visits to the country, China scholars have the potential to make important contributions to the bilateral policy-making process on the Canadian side by offering policy-makers in-depth briefings on the evolution in the Chinese government’s domestic and foreign policy priorities and challenges. Generally, well-grounded policies can be based only on multidisciplinary and multi-dimensional considerations, and the latter requires taking various opinions into account.

16Hence, this book brings together a diversity of perspectives from both China scholars and Canadian government and non-government representatives on the history and future of Sino-Canadian relations, and addresses the ways in which Canada has redefined and will continue to readjust its foreign policy with respect to domestic and external policy changes in China. Some of the chapters are written as speeches, hinting at the Canadian government’s foreign policy positions on China, and others take the form of more standard analyses. This mixture of writing styles is illustrative of a broader diversity in approaches and perspectives. We hope that this volume will be of help to Canadian and Chinese policy-makers in developing a suitable bilateral strategy that could be beneficial for both countries.

17The book is divided into five parts. The first part comprises the present chapter. The second part provides an overview of the history of Sino-Canadian relations from both practitioners’ and scholars’ perspectives. Fred Bild’s chapter emphasizes the absence of patterns and linearity in the history of those relations, and explains, on the basis of concrete examples, that diplomatic ties since their inception have been the fruits of spontaneous initiatives or windows of opportunities, which had their own underlying intentions, depending on their nature, timing, and initiators. Charles Burton explores the domestic factors that informed Canada’s foreign policy towards China from the 1970s to the early years of Stephen Harper’s government, focusing on four key periods or events: the recognition of the People’s Republic by the Trudeau government, Brian Mulroney’s response to the Tiananmen incident, Jean Chrétien’s “Team Canada” initiative, and the suspension of the Canada-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue in 2006. B. Michael Frolic accounts for the motivations underlying the creation of Canada’s strategy toward China in 1987. Sonny Lo explores the foreign policy decisions of the Harper government in relation to China, compares them with the Mulroney government’s relative coolness toward China in the 1980s, and argues that this change in attitudes to China results from Canada’s need to adapt to a globally rising China, the Chinese Canadian diaspora’s demands for improved bilateral relations, and strategic concerns on the part of the Canadian business elite. In a similar vein, Ming K. Chan explores the demographic and socioeconomic dimensions of the relationship between Canada and Hong Kong, and maintains that this historical bond has the potential to secure a relationship of trust between Canada and the People’s Republic. Qiang Zha then discusses how Canada and China’s bilateral relations have become more balanced and equitable as China’s influence in the world has expanded.

18The third part of the book comprises speeches made by current and former politicians, business leaders, and policy leaders, addressing the implications of, and conditions for, a growing demographic and economic interdependence between Canada and China. Yuen Pau Woo explores the ways in which China constituted a “bastion of stability” during the recent world economic crisis, compared to the United States, and suggests that Canada should draw from China’s stable position in the crisis to diversify its sources of investments and increase financial and commercial cooperation with the country. Such a strengthening of bilateral relations would undeniably require moving beyond some of the negativity that has undermined Canada and China’s relations in the past ten years. Senator Vivienne Poy stresses that Canada’s emphasis on human rights has had negative implications, and suggests that Hong Kong and Taiwan should be the gateways into China for Canadian businesses. Perrin Beatty, a former Canadian federal minister, shares similar views, stressing that Hong Kong offers a legal and commercial environment that is ideal for Canadian companies seeking to expand ties with China. Thomas d’Aquino, a leading voice of Canadian business, claims that the recent world economic crisis should be viewed as a window of opportunity for greater multilateral cooperation based on mutual harmony between economic development and environmental protection, and explores the ways in which Canada’s and China’s bilateral relations could be a future experimental terrain for the realization of such an objective. Errol Mendes, switching from economic to legal issues in the framework of interdependence, describes the similarities between Canada and China when it comes to the rights of ethnic minorities, and argues that Canada should serve as a global constitutional model for China and other multiethnic states that face important constitutional problems related to social stability.

19The fourth part of the book concerns the Chinese diaspora in Canada. Kenny Zhang claims that, unlike most countries, whose relations with China boil down to investment deals and trade agreements, Canada, with its significant and highly diversified Chinese Canadian population, has the opportunity to take bilateral ties a step further by reaching agreement in the area of human capital. In their chapter, Ghazy Mujahid, Ann Kim and Guida Man maintain that as China’s population grows and ages, the Chinese diaspora in Canada is likely to have more frequent exchanges with the People’s Republic for longer periods of time. The authors examine three dimensions of the relations between migrants and their families in China: the care that migrants extend to their parents in China, the care that grandparents in China provide for young children sent back to China, and mutual support as a result of elderly parents immigrating to Canada under sponsorship arrangements. Jack Jedwab stresses that Canadians who speak Chinese as well as English and/or French will reinforce the collective capacity for building cultural bridges between people in the two countries. Huhua Cao and Olivier Dehoorne address the evolution of the geographic distribution of Chinese immigrants to Canada over the past one hundred and fifty years. Not only have Chinese immigrants to Canada become better represented in smaller cities, there has been a shift away from settling in Chinatowns to settling in suburban areas. The authors address the policy implications associated with retaining skilled economic immigrants under an increasingly flexible economy. Tony Fang addresses some of the downside of deepened demographic ties between Canada and China, namely the fact that Chinese nationals immigrating to Canada are increasingly more educated than Canadian-born workers and yet their incomes tend to be lower.

20Finally, in the fifth part of the book Jeremy Paltiel suggests that Canada should move away from a foreign policy based on a “frame of teacher and pupil.” It may be more appropriate for both Canada and China to use each other as a mirror, as opposed to a model, in order to analyze each other’s practices and to see how the latter may be adapted and improved.



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Professor of Geography at the University of Ottawa. He received his bachelor degree from Shanghai Tong-Ji University and his master and PhD from Laval University. Dr. Cao has been involved in extensive research and international cooperation projects in Canada and China. His research has focused on three axes: 1) Urbanization and Mobility; 2) Regional ethnic minority; 3) Spatial inequality and accessibility of social services. Dr. Cao’s research has been funded several times by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSD) and also by Chinese Government ministries including the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education.
Along with his research experience, Dr. Cao has written numerous articles related to urban and regional development while collaborating with academics throughout the world. He is guest editor of the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) publication series: Ethnic Minorities and Regional Development in Asia: Reality and Challenges (Amsterdam University Press, 2009) and is also the co-editor of the books Inclusion and Harmony: Improving Mutual Understanding of Development in Minority Regions (The Ethnic Publishing House-民族出版社, 2008) and Regional Minorities and Development in Asia (Routledge, 2010). In 2010, Dr. Cao authored the book, Regional Disparity and Minority Inclusion: The Challenges of China after the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (Disparités régionales et inclusion des minorités : Les défis de la Chine de l’après Jeux Olympiques de Beijing), by Presses de l’Université du Québec

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