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The China Challenge

Huhua Cao
Vivienne Poy

Evolution of Canada-China relations

Chapter 5. The Politics of Soft Power in Sino-Canadian Relations: Stephen Harper’s Visit to China and the Neglected Hong Kong Factor

Sonny Shiu-Ling Lo

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1While conventional wisdom regards the visit of the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to China in December 2009 as a turning point, heralding warmer relations between Canada and China, a silent process involving China’s increasing “soft power” over Canada has been looming for some time. This chapter examines the various dimensions of Sino-Canadian relations since Harper’s visit, including trade, immigration, tourism, cross-border crime and sociocultural exchanges. At the same time, with hundreds of thousands of Canadians residing in Hong Kong, Canada’s soft power over China has been relatively neglected, an important issue that will also be discussed in this chapter.

2The political scientist Joseph Nye invented the concepts of “soft power” and “hard power” to discuss the ways in which the foreign policies of the United States evolved, and to delineate how other countries in the world perceived US military, economic, cultural and political power (see Nye 2004). “Hard power” refers to the military and economic might that a country possesses, but, as Nye emphasizes, these are not the only determinants of a nation state’s success in world politics. In addition, “soft power,” which can co-opt others, is an influential tool with which foreign policy objectives can be achieved without the need to resort to coercion. As Nye has pointed out (2004, p. 5):

Hard power can rest on inducements (“carrots”) or threats (“sticks”). But sometimes you can get the outcomes you want without tangible threats or pay-off s. The indirect way to get what you want has sometimes been called “the second face of power.” is also important to set the agenda and attract others in world politics, and not only to force them to change by threatening military force or economic sanctions. This soft power— getting others to want the outcomes you want—co-opts people rather than coerces them.

3Nye stresses that soft power is not simply the same as influence, because it represents the ability to attract others through one’s culture and values, and “the ability to manipulate the agenda of political choices” (Nye 2004, p. 7). While hard-power resources entail command behaviour, including force, sanctions and payments, soft-power resources embrace culture, values, institutions and policies (Nye 2004, p. 8). Using these concepts developed by Nye, this chapter argues that China’s soft power over Canada has gradually increased since Harper’s visit, but on the other hand, Canada’s soft power over China has not yet been fully used, even though the values and behaviour of Canadian citizens residing in Hong Kong could shape China’s policy toward Canada.

Stephen Harper’s Visit to China: Normalization of Bilateral Relations

4Harper’s visit to China had significant implications for the development of Sino-Canadian relations. First and foremost, his visit was widely viewed, not only by Chinese leaders but also by Chinese commentators in Canada, as a long-overdue move that repaired the frosty relations between China and Harper’s Conservative government, which had come to power three years before.

5Up to the eve of his visit to China Harper had adopted a far more aloof attitude toward China than any of his predecessors. The government of the Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau had recognized the People’s Republic in 1970, making Canada one of the first Western countries to do so. In 1994, another Liberal Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, had led a trade delegation to China and signed bilateral agreements covering projects to a total value of CA$ 90 billion. In 1998 Chrétien had visited China again and made several more trade agreements. Three years later he led yet another trade delegation to forge commercial and trade agreements worth CA$ 57 billion. Finally, in 2005, Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin had visited China and made eighty trade and bilateral deals, laying the groundwork for both sides to discuss an approved destination status agreement in relation to Chinese tourists visiting Canada.

6In contrast, Harper had long been seen as relatively anti-Communist, if not necessarily anti-Chinese, primarily because the ideology of Harper’s Conservative Party sees socialist regimes as undemocratic and ideologically incompatible. Most importantly, under the Conservative government Canada appeared to see China as a threat, and had offered support to the Dalai Lama, who is seen by the Chinese government as fostering separatist sentiment in Tibet. Harper did not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, a decision that was taken as a sign of a disrespectful attitude toward China and a lack of understanding of the concept of mianzi (“face” or honour; see Schiller 2009a). China had also taken note of the Canadian media’s frequent claims about Chinese spies in Canada, interpreting them as signs of mutual distrust between the two countries.

7In February 2009, in response to a question as to why Harper had not visited China after he became Prime Minister, Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade, argued that Harper had had to deal with the global financial crisis in 2008, as well as pressing domestic issues and a general election. The frosty relations between China and Canada were broken by the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to Ottawa in June 2009, when he invited Harper to pay a visit to China. Harper accepted Yang’s invitation and his eventual visit was widely viewed as a watershed in resuming a more normal and harmonious relationship between Canada and China.

8Harper’s visit led the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to make some public criticisms of Canada’s tardiness in maintaining friendship with China, saying that the visit “should have taken place earlier” and that he hoped “we are able to fix our problem of mutual trust” (as quoted in Schiller 2009b). In the Toronto Sun Michael Den Tandt (2009b) reacted strongly to Wen’s remarks in an editorial piece headed “Standing Up for Canada”:

The Chinese premier took the “unprecedented step” (gasp!) of upbraiding Prime Minister Stephen Harper (cringe!) at a press conference. What does it mean? ... Will trade with China suffer? The Chinese Premier ... was in a press conference with Harper to begin with because China needs Canada. China continues to require access to the North American market, which includes Canada. China continues to require access to our natural resources. Canada is a sovereign nation, one of the wealthiest on the planet, with a proud, able people, blessed with values and institutions that are the envy of the world. China’s governing elite, in particular, could learn a lot from Canada.... Trade? By all means. But we don’t need to take dictation from any foreign leader, certainly not Premier Wen Jiabao. Let him sputter. Now let’s carry on, advancing our values and interests, as always.

9Indeed, China does need Canada, but Canada also needs China’s huge economic market. From the perspective of the Chinese leadership, Harper should have visited Beijing much earlier to demonstrate Canada’s eagerness to treat China as a friendly state. Wen’s comment could be seen as a sign that he did not give mianzi (face) to Harper, just as Harper, whose advisers were apparently ignorant of this Chinese tradition, had failed to give mianzi when he skipped the Beijing Olympics. The Ming Pao, a Chinese-language newspaper in Toronto, argued (December 4, 2009) that Wen’s remarks were “not a sign of China making Harper lose face,” but the reality is that the question of face is critical in Chinese political and cultural tradition. The Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff was not the only observer who thought that Harper had indeed lost face when Wen reprimanded him.

10Chinese leaders also perceived Harper’s Conservative government as being too close to the Republican administration of George W. Bush in the United States, in that both governments saw China as a threat rather than as a cooperative partner. Following the victory of the Democratic candidate Barack Obama in the U.S. presidential election in November 2008, the Conservative government in Canada gradually shifted toward a more Realpolitik, less ideological approach to China. The wind of political change in Sino-Canadian relations in late 2009 was to a large extent a reflection of Obama’s victory. After all, Canada’s mainstream political currents are often shaped by the political transformations of its giant neighbour.

11Despite the lateness in resuming a more friendly relationship between the two countries, China conferred a “gift” upon the Harper government by granting Canada approved destination status, which meant that the number of Chinese tourists visiting Canada would increase by 40,000 to 50,000 a year, with a likely boost in annual tourist revenues of CA$ 100 million (see Schiller 2009b). The Canadian tourist industry warmly welcome this move, as at least 70,000 Chinese tourists would visit Toronto each year and the knock-on effects on the property market, the retail sector, restaurants and casinos would be tremendous. In particular, many more Chinese would visit friends and relatives in cities such as Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary. With 1.2 million ethnic Chinese residing in Canada, many of them have their family roots entrenched in Canadian soil, but retain family and emotional ties with Greater China (understood here as comprising mainland China itself, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan). The granting of approved destination status to Canada represents a landmark, not only in the further acceleration of human interactions between the two countries, but also in the strengthening of the family, identity and emotional bonds between the Chinese in Greater China and the ethnic Chinese in Canada. Harper’s visit undoubtedly was a watershed in the deepening of human interactions between Canada and Greater China.

12Harper’s visit also symbolized belated Canadian recognition of the rapid economic and global rise of China. In a speech delivered in Shanghai to the Canada–China Business Council and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (Ming Pao, December 5, 2009), Harper said that the orientation of Canada’s trade had shifted to East Asia, that the promotion of free trade was his government’s policy, and that the ethnic Chinese had played a positive and significant role in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Clearly, Harper was trying to acknowledge the positive contributions of Chinese to Canada and to reorient Canadian trade policy toward the global emergence of China, which has become a lucrative market for Canadian business. Harper also announced in Shanghai that Canada would set up four additional trade offices in China. The rapid global emergence of China has forced the Harper government to become far more pragmatic than before.

President Hu’s Visit to Canada in June 2010

13In June 2010, President Hu Jintao visited Canada to discuss five areas for further cooperation (Sing Tao Daily, June 25, 2010): the expansion of bilateral trade involving high-technology products, with both Canada and China attempting to elevate the value of this trade to US$ 600 billion; the promotion of bilateral investment in building ports, railways, telecommunications networks and other infrastructure projects in China’s western, central and northeastern provinces; the deepening of cooperation in the use of nuclear power and natural gas; the development of new frontiers of cooperation, such as high technology, service industries and the “green economy”; and opposition to any form of protectionism.

14The focus on cooperation in high-tech development and energy is noteworthy. China lacks sufficient supplies of technical expertise and energy to sustain its rapid pace of economic development, and Canada, with its endowments of technical education and natural resources, serves as a very critical source of both. In September 2009, for example, PetroChina had announced plans to invest CA$ 19 billion in acquiring sixty percent of the ownership of certain oil sands projects in Alberta (Sing Tao Daily, September 1, 2009). The strategic aspect of Hu’s visit to Canada was clear, although its implications seem to have been neglected by many Canadian observers. Significant breakthroughs were also achieved in other dimensions of Sino-Canadian relations. China announced that it would set up Chinese cultural centres in Canada, and both sides agreed on enhancing the numbers of Chinese tourists visiting Canada; promoting educational exchanges; increasing cooperation on environmental protection, energy-saving, food inspection, crime control and oil sands; establishing cooperation between the Chinese Import and Export Bank and Canada’s telecommunication industry; creating a partnership between Guangdong’s nuclear power enterprise and its Canadian counterpart; and collaborating on mining and resource extraction.

15Hu’s visit was recognized by the Canadian mass media as a crucial turning point, signalling the return to the good old days of Sino-Canadian relations. As the Toronto Star on June 25, 2010 remarked in an editorial of “China’s leader reaches out”:

Hu spoke of wanting to “further scale up cooperation” and “move forward the strategic partnership” between China and Canada. That’s standard, polite rhetoric, but it is nonetheless reassuring after a period of chilly relations.... China is now playing a larger role in the G20.... [It] is the new “indispensable” country. Beijing bolstered the G20 consensus on stimulus that helped avert a depression. It supports reform of the financial system. China’s move to revalue its undervalued currency is a positive (if fledgling) signal that it takes its leading role seriously. Politically, China can help thwart the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran. It is also a big power in African development and in managing climate change.... To be sure, Canada’s disagreement with Beijing on democracy, human rights, and espionage are still deeply felt. Indeed, our own spy chief triggered an ill-timed ruckus on the eve of Hu’s visit by all but confirming that China is one of several countries trying to influence our policy-makers.... But disagreements, however profound, need to be managed, not exacerbated. That’s something the ideologically driven Conservatives took a long time to recognize. Modern Canada/China ties now go back forty years, to the Trudeau era. Hu’s idea for an enhanced partnership could usher in an even more productive fifth decade.

The Fear of Chinese “Espionage” in Canada

16Before Hu’s visit Richard Fadden, head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), claimed that China had infiltrated a number of spies into political circles in Canada at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. Fadden’s claims were met with criticism by some Canadian commentators, who believed that the accusations had no concrete basis, and also provoked heated discussions within the Chinese community in Canada. One retired political scientist, Reg Whitaker, told the Toronto Star (June 24, 2010): “For CSIS to make unspecified allegations on national television without apparently contacting the provincial government and federal government is something you and I, and the general public, shouldn’t hear about.” Olivia Chow of the New Democratic Party told the Sing Tao Daily (June 25, 2010) that Fadden’s remarks were “irresponsible.”

17In fact, analysts familiar with China’s “united front” strategy, which is aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Chinese and non-Chinese alike, do not see it as having any subversive impact on Canadian security. China sets out to make friends with foreign officials, politicians, and overseas Chinese, as well as Chinese compatriots in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan (see Lo 2008 and Loh 2010). Lobbying Canadian officials and politicians, and even Canadian Chinese community leaders, is a normal use of “soft power” in the Chinese political tradition. Nevertheless, some Canadian commentators and politicians see such work as subversive. One Conservative member of Parliament, Rob Anders, claimed that two other members of the House of Commons had received business favours and sexual services from Chinese agents (Ming Pao, July 31, 2010). Critics responded that, unless he could point out specific examples, such claims appeared to exaggerate the impact of China’s efforts on the behaviour of Canadian politicians.

18From a conservative security perspective, the Canadian fear of potential Chinese espionage is understandable. Canada is the neighbour of its superpower friend and long-term ally the United States, and is endowed with strategic natural resources. China’s ability to influence Canada’s policies and tap its high-tech developmental skills, commercial knowledge and energy resources, is arguably indispensable in the augmentation of China’s soft power not only in relation to Canada but also in relation to the United States. However, any security threat from China is often overstated in the Canadian media and political circles, which are influenced, to some extent, by anti-Communist and anti-China sentiment emanating not only from within Canada but also from the United States. Huge controversy was aroused, for example, in September 2009, when three Chinese community groups, Canada ALPHA, BC ALPHA and Toronto ALPHA, went to court to seek an injunction against Nest of Spies: The Startling Truth about Foreign Agents at Work within Canada’s Borders, a book in which Fabrice de Pierrebourg, a journalist, and Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former officer of CSIS, made allegations about industrial espionage conducted on behalf of a number of countries, including China. In a settlement of the case in November, the publisher HarperCollins Canada agreed to remove certain sections of the book that were deemed to be “defamatory.”

19The establishment of Confucius Institutes has also aroused some controversy (see Little 2010). Since 2004 the Chinese government has supported the establishment of about 300 Confucius Institutes in various parts of the world, including seven at McMaster University, the University of Waterloo and other locations in Canada (Ming Pao, June 26, 2010). These institutes can be seen as part of an effort by the Chinese government to shape perceptions of China through the propagation of Chinese culture, language, literature and art. The use of cultural and other non-political means of influencing the ways in which foreigners and overseas Chinese view China is nothing new. Confucius Institutes have been supported by the Ministry of Education inside China, and it is not surprising that the instructors sent out to work in them are politically acceptable to the government. However, as long as Canadian students and other members of the public attending these institutes are politically independent and retain their capacity for critical thinking, any effort made by an instructor to subject them to political propaganda would be futile, and might well elicit negative reactions from those who support the idea that human rights and democratic values are universally applicable.

Human Rights Concerns

20Perhaps the most prominent difference between Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and the Chinese regime is over human rights. Harper’s sympathetic support for the Dalai Lama and his reiteration of the importance of human rights, the rule of law and freedom during his visit to China in December 2009 are sufficient indications of this difference. Critics have pointed to what they regard as inconsistency on this issue, as, for example, when the Canadian government appeared to appease the Chinese regime by preventing New Tang Dynasty TV and the Epoch Times from attending President Hu’s public appearance in Ottawa in June 2010 (see Delacourt 2010). However, this incident was an exception, and contrasted with Canada’s longstanding practice of expressing concern for human rights in China. In February 2009, for example, the Canadian immigration authorities issued a permit for a Chinese dissident journalist, Jiang Weiping, to enter Canada. Jiang had been arrested in China in December 2000 and released from detention in January 2006 (World Journal, February 10, 2009). According to Jiang, he was thrown into prison because of his investigative reports on a corruption case involving the Mayor of Shenyang, a city in northeastern China. His case aroused the concern of some overseas Chinese human rights activists in Canada, whose efforts on his behalf helped to ensure that he and his family could immigrate to Canada. Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, insisted that Jiang’s case did not really affect Sino-Canadian relations (Today Daily News, February 8, 2009).

21Concern about human rights is also articulated by some ethnic Chinese and Tibetan groups in Canada. Before Harper’s visit to China the Canadian Chinese Express reported (November 27, 2009) that some Canadian Chinese groups had lobbied the foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, in favour of a more assertive policy on the protection of human rights in China. According to the Today Daily News (December 2, 2009), these groups included the Toronto Association in Support of China’s Democratic Movement, the Free Tibet (Canadian) Association and the Canadian branch of Amnesty International. While the Liberal Party’s international trade commentator Scott Brison criticized the Conservative government for paying too much attention to human rights issues rather than trade, a public opinion survey conducted by Angus Reid on December 1 and 2, 2009, showed that, of 1,006 respondents, sixty-eight percent agreed that Canada should devote more attention to human rights than to trade with respect to countries known for human rights violations, including China (Ming Pao, December 3, 2009). Hence, the Conservative government’s emphasis on human rights in China is a policy in conformity with the mainstream values of Canadian society. This explains why Harper insisted that he would not give up on human rights issues for the sake of trade with China, even though his stress on the supremacy of human rights did not meet with applause from his audience in Shanghai. Similarly, when Hu Jintao visited Ottawa in June 2010, Harper insisted that he would raise human rights with the Chinese President. Critics and skeptics may question whether such political gestures are of any use, yet the Canadian government’s position is that, in expressing concern for human rights, Harper and other Canadian politicians are expressing the values of most Canadians, who cherish multiculturalism, civil liberties, human rights, the rule of law and political tolerance.

22In a speech delivered at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, said that Canada could contribute more to the promotion of human rights and the strengthening of the rule of law through human interactions than through diplomatic activity, and emphasized that the Chinese people themselves, rather than foreigners, were responsible for resolving issues of human rights, religious freedom, economic liberalization and the use of the death penalty (Ming Pao, July 6, 2010). Ignatieff thus appears to have adopted a more diplomatic approach to the sensitive issue of human rights than Harper, even though he had been Director of Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights before his return to Canada in 2006. Ignatieff also said that Canadians should admit the progress made by China in the area of human rights protection, including its efforts at reducing poverty. It may be argued that, from the perspective of managing mianzi and understanding Chinese culture, Ignatieff is ahead of Harper, but critics have maintained that the Liberal Party is all too often “soft on China” (see, for example, Den Tandt 2009a). In any case, the Canadian political elite in general cannot shy away from concern for human rights in their interactions with China, and the differences with Beijing on this issue will certainly persist in the foreseeable future.

The Lai Changxing Case and the Politics of Extradition

23The case of Lai Changxing illustrates the dilemmas faced by the Canadian government in coping with China. On the one hand, the Canadian government has to respect the human rights of individuals, including Lai, who escaped from the province of Fujian to Canada, by way of Hong Kong, in 1999. The Chinese authorities accused Lai of financing a multi-billion-dollar operation smuggling cigarettes and fuel into Fujian, bribing officials and military officers, and avoiding taxes, but, after a long process of legal actions, Lai was allowed to stay in Canada, on the grounds that, if he were sent back to China, he would face the death penalty. In compliance with the Canadian court’s judgment, the authorities granted Lai a work permit, a move that aroused the anger of the Chinese government. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said: “The Chinese government is unwavering and consistent in its position that the fugitive Lai Changxing return to face trial under Chinese law. We have already made serious representations to the Canadian side.” Another complex immigration case involved two brothers who worked in a branch of the People’s Bank of China in Harbin. They were regarded by the Chinese government as “corrupt elements,” but after both men entered Canada their lawyer argued that, if they were sent back to China, they would face physical abuse or even the death penalty. The Supreme Court of Canada was not convinced by the risk assessment submitted by the immigration authorities, and the brothers were detained. The court also said, however, that the argument against Canadian protection of the two brothers was weak, and ordered that a new risk assessment should be conducted by another group of immigration officials. Their assessment favoured the two brothers, who then applied for landed immigrant status in Canada. Both these cases demonstrated not only the independence of Canada’s judicial system, but also the determination of the Chinese authorities to have those it regards as criminals tried and punished. The two cases also prompted both China and Canada to look into the possibility of negotiating an extradition agreement, although Lai has said that he is not afraid of such an agreement because he is not a criminal.

24Both China and Canada are signatories of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The official Chinese view is that if corrupt individuals escape from China to other parts of the world, including Canada, the Chinese government has a duty to prevent the outflow of the proceeds of these individuals’ crimes. A formal extradition agreement would bring about the return of criminal suspects from Canada to China, but an agreement on the proceeds of crime would close the legal and practical loopholes that, according to the Chinese government, allow criminals to take state assets with them when they leave China. From the Canadian perspective, having formal agreements in place on extradition and the proceeds of crime would help to prevent Canada from becoming a haven for Chinese criminals, especially now that economic liberalization has stimulated an increase in cross-border crime across Greater China (see Lo 2009). Accordingly, in December 2009, the two governments agreed on a joint declaration on cross-border crime, and in January 2010, the Canadian government made the unprecedented decision to return to China a Chinese citizen, Cui Zhili, who was accused of involvement in an insurance fraud worth CNY 16 million in Beijing in 2002, and who had escaped to Canada in January 2003. The return of Cui to China raised the question whether Lai Changxing might also be extradited, but, more importantly, the Cui case showed that it was possible for both sides to use administrative arrangements to tackle the issue of cross-border crime.

The Neglected Hong Kong Factor in Enhancing Canada’s Soft Power over China

25When Stephen Harper visited Hong Kong in December 2009 he remarked that, with 200,000 Canadians residing there, Hong Kong was actually the largest Canadian city outside Canada. In total, 292,000 Canadians reside in Greater China. Moreover, about 100,000 people from Hong Kong have studied in Canada. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has a membership of 1,200 in Hong Kong, making it the largest Canadian business organization outside Canada. In 2009, immigrants from Hong Kong to Canada topped the three categories of economic migrants, immigrants to Quebec and other provinces, and family reunions, outstripping the numbers of immigrants from mainland China and Taiwan. In many respects, then, Hong Kong occupies a central place in Canada’s relations with Greater China.

26Nevertheless, the Canadian government has not yet tapped the human resources and “soft power” connected with the Hong Kong factor in Sino-Canadian relations. Many politicians in Hong Kong, especially the democrats, have Canadian linkages or heritage to some degree. For instance, Albert Chan Wai-yip, the leader of the League of Social Democrats, studied in Canada and was a Canadian citizen before he renounced Canadian citizenship to participate in legislative elections in Hong Kong during the 1990s. Cyd Ho, a member of the legislature, also studied in Canada, while the deputy minister Greg So was formerly a lawyer practising in Canada, and also renounced Canadian citizenship when he became one of the appointed officials of the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region. The former health official Margaret Chan studied at the University of Western Ontario (she is now Director General of the World Health Organization). The current Financial Secretary, John Tsang, formerly worked in Canada, while the former treasury chief Frederic Ma Si-hang also resided in Canada before he returned to work in Hong Kong. Many Canadians participated in the mass protests and parade against the maladministration of Tung Chee-hwa’s government on July 1, 2003 (as the former Canadian Consul General, Tony Burger, pointed out to me during a meeting and discussion in June 2004). Given these and other close linkages between Hong Kong and Canada, it is at least arguable that the Canadian government should reassess its lack of a policy for using the soft power of Hong Kong Canadians in relations with China.

27The absence of a clear and explicit Canadian policy on the Hong Kong element in Sino-Canadian relations is attributable to several factors. First and foremost, the human resources of the Canadian Consulate in Hong Kong are weak and inadequate for handling any “united front work” comparable to what the Chinese government is doing in Canada. Second, while the Harper government realizes the significance of Hong Kong as the “largest Canadian city outside Canada,” it has no concrete policy measures, not to mention policy advice, on how to translate the hidden soft power of Canadians in Hong Kong into an effective instrument for articulating Canadian interests. Canada lacks Hong Kong experts to balance the influence of those Sinologists who tend to view mainland China as being far more significant than Hong Kong. Third, a few diplomats in the Canadian Foreign Service may identify the hidden influence and soft power of Canadians in Hong Kong, but since they are often rotated to work in different places, their expertise and knowledge on Hong Kong are constantly lost or underused. As a result, the Hong Kong factor has been largely neglected by the Canadian political and diplomatic establishment. The human resources of the Canadian Consulate in Hong Kong need to be increased so that more staff can be devoted to networking with Canadian individuals and groups in Hong Kong, organizing activities and sharing information so that a strong network and database can be established. This potentially powerful Canadian community would be able to influence various Chinese policies not only toward Hong Kong itself but also toward Canada. The existing Canadian groups in Hong Kong, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Club, should not be complacent, but should expand their membership, and educational exchange programmes and cultural cooperation projects should be better organized under the leadership of Canadian officials. The talents available in Greater China can be identified and tapped so that they can contribute to the specific needs of Canada’s rapidly changing society.


28Since December 2009, the Conservative government of Canada has belatedly established more friendly relations and cooperative partnerships with the Chinese government in a number of areas, including trade, tourism and crime control. This shift in Canada’s foreign policy has also triggered an unintended dialectical process of enhancing Beijing’s soft power over Ottawa. Canada is geopolitically located beside the United States, whose relations with China have oscillated ever since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, and it is therefore understandable that China has sought to augment its soft power over Canada, if only as a means to influence opinion in the United States.

29Engaging China should not be seen as simply having a subversive impact on Canada, as the constant fear of Chinese espionage in Canada suggests. Rather, engaging China means that Canada can and should maintain its tradition of supporting human rights development in the world, and that Canada must reassess its lack of any “united front” policy toward the Chinese residing in Greater China, notably in Hong Kong, where so many Canadian citizens live, work and raise their families. A new Canadian policy toward Hong Kong and, by implication, toward China as a whole, should ideally be adopted, in order to win the hearts and minds of Hong Kong Canadians and non-Canadians through enhanced cultural, social and educational exchanges and improved diplomatic organization and coordination. Given that many Chinese in Greater China appear to have a favourable perception of Canada as a country endowed with political tolerance, economic affluence, educational quality and social stability, adopting a more proactive policy toward Greater China would enhance Canada’s soft power over China in the long run. Such reciprocal moves to enhance Canada’s soft power in response to the gradual rise in Beijing’s soft power over Ottawa should not be seen as politically sinister. In the real world of politics, seeking to influence the behaviour and policies of other nation states is normal. If the Canadian political and diplomatic elite can reassess their lack of a policy for enhancing Canada’s soft power in Greater China, the time is ripe for its members to ponder a more proactive, long-term and strategic policy change in the coming years.



Delacourt, Susan. (2010, June 25). “Harper Helps Hu Keep Critics Away.” Toronto Star, A10.

Den Tandt, Michael. (2009a, December 4). “Grits Soft on China.” Toronto Sun, 20.

Den Tandt, Michael. (2009b, December 5). “Standing Up for Canada,” Saturday Sun (Toronto), 18.

Little, Matthew. (2010, July 16). “Confucius Institutes: Getting Schooled by Beijing.” Epoch Times.

Lo, Sonny Shiu-Hing. (2008). The Dynamics of Beijing–Hong Kong Relations: A Model for Taiwan? Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Lo, Sonny Shiu-Hing. (2009). The Politics of Cross-Border Crime in Greater China: Case Studies of Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macao. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Loh, Christine Loh. (2010). Underground Front: The Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Nye, Joseph S. (2004). Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. New York: Public Affairs.

Schiller, Bill. (2009a, December 3). “PM’s Tough Beijing Balancing Act.” Toronto Star, A6.

Schiller, Bill. (2009b, December 4). “Harper Scolded for China Snub.” Toronto Star, A25.

This chapter also draws on news reports and editorial pieces in the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun and five Chinese-language newspapers: the Canadian Chinese Express (Toronto), the Ming Pao (Toronto), the Sing Tao Daily (Hong Kong), the Today Daily News (Toronto) and the World Journal (Toronto and Vancouver).


Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education and Co-Director of the Research Center for Greater China Studies there. He formerly taught political science at the University of Waterloo, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong Lingnan College, and the University of East Asia, Macau. In 1991-92, he was a research fellow at Murdoch University, Australia. His recent publications include The Politics of Cross-Border Crime in Greater China (M. E. Sharpe, 2009) and The Dynamics of Bejing-Hong Kong Relations: A Model for Taiwan? (Hong Kong University Press, 2008)

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