Version classiqueVersion mobile

The China Challenge

Huhua Cao
Vivienne Poy

The chinese diaspora and immigration in Canada

Chapter 18. Conclusion: Reimagining Canada’s Present and Future in the Shadow of the Rise of China

Jeremy Paltiel

Texte intégral

1Senator Poy and Dr. Cao have assembled contributions from policy practitioners and academic commentators that critically examine the Canada– China relationship over the past forty years. In this brief concluding chapter I look at what we must do in light of these contributions to build a robust partnership that will benefit both our countries, and the world, over the next forty years.

Challenging Our Complacency

2As B. Michael Frolic points out in his chapter, Canada’s relations with China over most of the past forty years have been premised on a single idea: in partnering with China, a major power outside the mainstream of international society, Canada can play a valuable, even principal role in improving China’s integration into international society and global governance, and might thereby advance Canada’s own international stature. Having, in our own minds, rummaged in the wilderness to find the magic lamp that will yield the genie who will accede to our wishes, we have found along the way that the genie is no slave to our commands, and is not exactly grateful for being liberated.

3There is a story told in the Mencius of two soldiers on a battlefield. When the attack drums sound, both take off to the rear. One soldier stops after fifty paces and, seeing that his companion has already retreated a hundred paces, laughs out loud. Mencius asks whether there is any difference in the cowardice of either soldier. So too, China’s leaders see no need to single Canada out among Western nations. China engages the world on its own terms.

4Faced with this, Canadian leaders have played both ardent suitor and hard to get, in the mirror image policies of the Chrétien and Harper regimes. Arguably, neither path has yielded satisfactory results. Each has been premised on what China represents to us, rather than on where we are of interest to China, or on mobilizing latent resources that can be synergized through a more active partnership with China. Our policy has yet to move from a perception that we are closer to the fulcrum of global politics than the Chinese are, to a recognition that it is up to us to move ourselves closer to the fulcrum of global politics if we are to leverage our relatively modest power.

5The past forty years have seen several important milestones. Even before diplomatic recognition, wheat sales were initiated through the Canadian Wheat Board under Prime Minister Diefenbaker. Canada’s recognition initiative was a milestone event in China’s relations with the West, underlining Canada’s understanding that China had the potential to be a significant global power, but that it had little experience in engaging the multilateral institutions created in the wake of the Second World War. The third milestone was our aid programme in China, put in place through a memorandum of understanding in 1983. The importance of this programme was the focus that it gave to human resources, and to enhancing the capacity of civil society in meeting the challenges of a China that was becoming more open and more globalized. This was an important leg of our China strategy in the 1980s, as so masterfully set out in Professor Frolic’s chapter. Coming soon after Deng Xiaoping had launched the reform and opening process at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee in December 1978, all along our programme was aimed at enhancing and reinforcing that process. We can fairly claim some credit for training at least some of China’s agents of internationalization and, in the process, normalizing China’s engagement with the world, through tools ranging from technical, managerial and language to legal reform and environmental capacity enhancement.

6While our modest aid programme and our extensive welcoming of Chinese immigrants and students engaged a broad range of Chinese institutions and institutional actors, as well as fostering university linkages, these were not translated into lasting institutional bonds that could have transcended project funding or the human contacts among diverse individual actors. Canada remains well-regarded in China, but our role in China’s opening is poorly appreciated and seldom commented on. Of the thousands of Canadians engaged by this process, only a minority remain engaged in China relations as a regular aspect of their careers, and there has been little or no effort to mobilize this latent source of guanxi in any systematic way.

7A number of Canadian firms have been active in the Chinese market since the earliest days of its opening to the world, but few have established a significant footprint in any individual sector, with Bombardier Transportation and Manulife Financial being significant among those few. Nortel’s adventures in China followed the bittersweet trajectory of that firm. Complementing this has been the rather timid and slow penetration of Chinese investment in our resources sector, which is only now assuming significant momentum and scale. All in all, despite quite significant and energetic efforts at various junctures by governments at the national and provincial levels, and with significant input at the municipal level, we remain fond acquaintances rather than fast friends or even active partners.

8While there can be no gainsaying the cultural and linguistic barriers to closer ties, some fault for this modest achievement lies with our own parochial and smug self-satisfaction, rooted, perhaps, in a benign missionary condescension. Our reflexive insistence on seeing the Chinese as latecomer pupils in need of benign tutelage, or else as virgin market terrain whose superficial penetration should exact exorbitant rents, has belied the actual picture of our engagement. Few have followed in the footsteps of Mark Rowswell, the Canadian media celebrity known in China as Dashan, and bothered to invest the time and energy to establish a lasting presence in the intricate web of Chinese social, political and economic organization sufficient to yield the status of knowledgeable insiders with the capacity to recognize, and capitalize on, reciprocal interests and opportunities. Those who have, are reluctant to generalize their experience to others and in many cases are unable to because their success is intensely localized and particularistic, in keeping with the intricacy of the Chinese environment. As a result we are unaware of our resources and ignorant of our opportunities, except when they are spelled out directly by Chinese officials eager to transact specific deals in specific circumstances.

9Charles Burton has highlighted some of these aspects of our underperformance in China, while Sonny Lo and Ming Chan both highlight the bridging role that Hong Kong has played in Canada’s relations with China. However, they also critique our underexploitation of this potential aspect of our “soft power” in China, despite the fact that, as far back as the mid-1980s, it was an important element in the “China Strategy” that Professor Frolic describes. Perrin Beatty again emphasizes the positive role played by Hong Kong in our relationship with China.

10In general, this volume testifies to the potential of our soft power, but laments the lack of recognition by our policy-makers of our potential and capacity to mobilize this latent resource. Qiang Zha shows how education, traditionally one of the areas where Canadians prided themselves on being tutors of China’s modernization, is increasingly a two-way street, in which our own high-tech firms are increasingly reliant on imported human resources. Indeed, one of the most important findings of this entire volume is that Canadians must be made more aware of, better appreciate and make better use of the two-way character of Sino-Canadian exchanges.

11China is a terrain where local knowledge is crucial and can be scaled up only with care and experimentation. Here there is an obvious asymmetry between our vast and relatively sparse network, and China’s simultaneous vastness and density. Our efforts to engage bump up awkwardly against a further instance of cultural inconsistency. Ours is a rule-bound society integrated through the rule of law, where teams of lawyers hash out agreements according to standard formulas recognizable in the common law and sanctified through precedent. China is a newly (re)born market society where rules are relative, policies are correlative and trust is intimate and personalized. Under the mantle of the general authority of the Communist Party of China, officials maximize their personal authority by using all the discretion granted them by law and policy to realize their personal interest. Nothing is possible unless those interests are met or that discretion is neutralized by the favour of a more powerful official. Contracts are only as valid as the interest and capacity of the party involved in the agreement. Court justices are officials with interests also. Legal boilerplate cannot make up for relations of trust at any level of the Chinese hierarchy. Trust grows from mutual commitment and is cemented through easy familiarity. It is not transferable and has a “best before” date. Given that neither our politicians nor our active entrepreneurs can spend more than a minor portion of their careers on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean, our initiatives and interactions are destined to be sporadic at best. This necessary drawback must be compensated by intensity and consistency. Given our vast landscape and sparse population, we rarely achieve that kind of intimacy even in our domestic politics, let alone with our favoured allies. How much less is it possible for us to imprint ourselves on the consciousness of statesmen of a different language, culture and ideology?

12And yet, over the decades since Canadian immigration laws removed the last vestiges of formal discrimination by race and country of origin, almost all our urban spaces have been transformed by infusions of Chinese culture. Kenny Zhang’s chapter provides concrete data showing the visibility of Chinese communities in various major metropolitan centres, as well as their strong representation in a large number of professional and managerial categories. Chinese cuisine and public figures of Chinese ethnic origin have become commonplaces of our own landscape, from our municipal councils through to Parliament and even the office of Governor General. Where Chinese Canadians may once have represented the face of Canadian multiculturalism, they now represent unhyphenated Canada, full stop.

Transforming Our Imaginary

13Unfortunately the same cannot be said of our Pacific imaginary. Twenty-five years after the establishment of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, funded by all ten provinces and the federal government, we do not have a Pacific Council to focus the attention of civic leaders and policy-makers on the strategic challenges of forging trans-Pacific linkages. Our strategic culture still looks across the Northwest Atlantic and to our close neighbours to the South. Thus, for example, the website of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute shows only one article on East Asia (specifically, on China) for the past two years, and that by a non-expert (see Burney 2009), while a more recent study of the rise of the Chinese military was conducted by a colleague who has no expertise on China and largely recaps verbatim assessments coming from the United States (see Sloan 2010). The most recent statement of Canada’s Defence Strategy, Canada First, contains a single sentence in the page about the Strategic Environment: “The ongoing build-up of conventional forces in Asia– Pacific countries is another trend that may have a significant impact on international stability in coming years” (see Ministry of National Defence 2010). We remain hostage to mainstream historiography on both sides of the Pacific, to a vision of Canada forged in the trenches of Flanders, and a vision of China that “stood up” by facing down the missionaries, adventurers and imperialist exploiters. Yet Norman Bethune was a relative latecomer in a long series of Canadians who made their efforts to contribute to China’s re-emergence as a modern and dignified society in the community of nations.

14Charles Burton’s contribution to this volume applies a kind of revisionist twist to the self-congratulatory historiography of Sino-Canadian relations that was prevalent from the 1970s through the 1980s and, even after the trauma of the Tiananmen tragedy, extended beyond the 1990s. He reminds us that we have never shared a common ideological outlook with the Communist rulers of the People’s Republic and that this difference forms a fact of life in our relationship. This sober outlook provides helpful background to changing perspective on Sino-Canadian relations under the current Harper government. Yet, despite the fact of different values, China’s place in the world has radically changed and our policy must take account of this in the interest of all Canadians.

15Canada’s “Grand Strategy,” as identified by David Haglund (2000) and re-emphasized by David Pratt (2008), has been securely nestled within a North Atlantic Triangle. Both these authors emphasize Canada’s overlapping interests in maintaining close coordination with the United Kingdom and the United States, and maintaining a foreign policy based on multilateralism and internationalism, and anchored in liberal economic and political values, including the rule of law and individual rights. Over the more than sixty years that have passed since this foreign policy direction became institutionalized in Canada’s commitments to NATO, NORAD and the UN, the economic and political centre of gravity has shifted towards the Asia–Pacific region. However, despite the formation of APEC, the institutions that frame the Asia–Pacific region lack the same nexus of values and institutions that cemented the North Atlantic Triangle in the past. In the early pages of his study, Haglund reviews Prime Minister Chrétien’s conviction that the 21st century would be the Pacific Century and then, in a few words, simply dismisses it as an exaggerated fantasy about a remote future (Haglund 2000, pp. 2 and 67–72). While the contribution to this volume by that experienced practitioner of Canadian diplomacy, former Ambassador Fred Bild, may question the relevance and usefulness of grand ideas in the practical course of events, as the Sino-Canadian relationship has unfolded, those who shape and advise our country’s foreign policy can only work on the assumption that the ship of state will go in the direction in which it is steered. Without a firm grasp of its destination, our country is quite literally lost.

16Recent non-government reports, especially the Canadian International Council’s Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked Age (the Greenspon GPS project, 2010), along with the contributions to this volume, have highlighted the need to engage China more strategically. Open Canada specifically recommends making Vancouver our Asia–Pacific Gateway, reaching an agreement on dual Canadian–Chinese citizenship and doing more to encourage Chinese investment and higher education in Canada. These are worthy goals, but unless our policy is anchored in a vision that places our identity within the Asia–Pacific region and ties our destiny to our trans-Pacific relationships, such efforts are likely to be crowded out by other priorities on either side of the Pacific Ocean. Fully supporting a Gateway oil pipeline to the Pacific coast would be a significant commitment that would demonstrate in material form our faith in strategic energy ties across the Pacific. This should be coupled with joint research and development efforts in green energy, and better environmental stewardship of oil sands energy resources. Collectively these efforts would have an impact in mutually indigenizing our trans-Pacific business cultures and broadening the social and economic stakes in maintaining a healthy relationship. We could jointly apply the profits of current energy technology to the search for a more sustainable future for the planet that would simultaneously sustain Sino-Canadian relations.

17The main reason why our North Atlantic imaginary endures is because it is both anchored in history and reinforced by the enduring values underlying our federation and political life. Even the way in which we have integrated immigrants coming from diverse cultural origins is closely tied in with the evolving character of the liberal institutions that underpin our bilingual federation. While we have relationships that span the Pacific Ocean, the integration of our own society appears to owe more to the values transmitted across the Atlantic. Further, we staked our claim to nationhood largely on the battlefields of Europe during the two world wars. As the diplomat John Holmes pointed out in his survey of our foreign policy more than thirty years ago, even in the Second World War we left the fighting in the Pacific to our American allies.

Mobilizing Our Latent and Potential Resources

18Few Canadians had ties to the Communist guerrilla elites that ruled China after 1949, and those who did fell under the shadow of the Cold War. Among the immigrants who have enriched Canada since the late 1960s, few have been able to retain influential ties back home while struggling to establish themselves in Canada. The hard work of the first generation, and the anxiety of the second generation to blend into their parents’ new homeland, has not been conducive to forming ties that bind. At the same time, Canada has been considerably enriched by the contributions of Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong and other former British colonies, who have in turn served as a bridgehead for immigrants from mainland China. Senator Poy rightly emphasizes the catalytic role that Canada’s relationship with Hong Kong has played in stimulating and developing our relationship with China as a whole. It may take another generation for a cohort to arise that can ride the jet stream and stride the dateline with equanimity and confidence, but, just as many Canadians travel the arc between homes in Vancouver and Hong Kong on a regular basis and divide family relations between the two port cities, the same kind of nexus of business, family and culture is gradually being woven between Vancouver and Shanghai, and various other gateways of Canada and China. Open Canada seeks to speed that process by proposing that Canada reach a formal agreement with China on dual citizenship. That may be a laudable objective, but it is unnecessary under Canadian law and too sensitive for Chinese legislation. We should instead work for some kind of framework bilateral agreement for visas for business executives and skilled workers, while working harder here at home to facilitate the integration of highly educated Chinese into the professional labour force. This laudable goal, articulated by Senator Poy and documented most notably by Tony Fang, along with others in this volume, must be backed up by practical measures that bring immigrant professionals into the workplace before their job experience in their homeland becomes stale. This will require cooperation, not only between federal immigration authorities and provincial credential-granting authorities, but also between the private sector and the voluntary associations assisting immigrant settlement. As Ghazy Mujahid, Ann Kim and Guida Man point out in Chapter 14, socioeconomic pressures of aging in the transnational family create incentives for officials from both countries to ease the burden of the ‘sandwich generation’ caught between the caring for young children as well as elderly parents. The dividends, however, will flow to the country as a whole, not just because we benefit from the full applications of the human resources of immigrants, but because professional immigrants who are fully integrated into our private and public sectors form a human bridge back to China, as both Kenny Zhang, Huhua Cao and Olivier Dehoorne point out, and keep open the channels of technical cooperation and technology transfer, investment and multinational management.

19We must also do more to ensure that the welcome we have extended to Chinese students in our schools and universities, so that they can acquire sophisticated knowledge in our two official languages, as well as the thousands of language teachers we have dispatched to China over the past forty years, are matched by equal commitments by our provincial education authorities, not only to provide heritage language programmes, but to expand the learning of Mandarin Chinese as a second language, and a more robust commitment to acquainting our young people with the historic achievements of Chinese civilization. As Jack Jedwab has pointed out in his contribution to this volume, language retention enhances social capital, and thus increases the social capital available in this country to maintain and advance our relations with China and the world.

20Professor Errol Mendez recommends our federal constitutional model for China as a method of resolving problems of minority rights. We are justly proud of our record of progress in multiculturalism, and our survival as a multiethnic and multilingual state largely free from violent confrontation. It might be better to use a different metaphor, for each country to use the other, not as a model, but as a mirror in which to examine its own practices to see whether they can improve. Without preaching, we can hold out our human rights culture and institutions as a mirror in which the Chinese may look at their own practice. We can admire and learn from Chinese practices in development and the eradication of poverty, while sharing experience in bringing prosperity to minorities and the historically disadvantaged. The challenge before us is to go beyond the instrumental ties of commerce to forge deep and abiding relationships, while holding fast to the cherished values that cemented our historic genesis in the North Atlantic Triangle. As China rises, we need to convince ourselves that our participation was integral to China’s successful re-emergence on the global stage. Secure in this knowledge, we may then integrate our identity as a multicultural Asia–Pacific nation with China’s rise. The challenge is to look at China not as a reflection of our values or as a favoured pupil, but as a complex reality in which our values are embedded in a configuration that is distinctive, but not identical. As the Chinese sage Confucius recommends, “the authoritative person seeks harmony without sameness, whereas the inferior one only attaches himself to the same.”

Reorienting Our Partnership to a Post-Western World

21Canada does have much to offer in the area of governance and the rule of law, and we have actively shared our experience through the programmes administered by CIDA in China. However, our experience both in the integration of skilled immigrants, and in the economic and social development of remote Aboriginal communities, leaves much to be desired. We can and should acknowledge China’s success in economic development, while sharing experience in the management of minority issues. As our relationship matures after forty years, we should move away from the frame of teacher and pupil, and the frame of first encounters, into a new cooperative framework, where participants from both sides work together to tackle common problems in economic development, environmental sustainability and multiethnic governance in a globalized world. This cooperative framework is hinted at in the contribution by Thomas d’Aquino. We should encourage our government and business leaders to elaborate on this through the strategic working groups already established between our national governments, supplemented by other initiatives from the provinces and the private sector. We can not only encourage the “whole of government” approach to China recommended by former Minister Emerson, but add federal–provincial cooperation and the participation of the private and voluntary sectors. In looking to the next forty years of our bilateral relations, we must focus more strategically to reorient our vision across the Pacific Ocean, adapting without losing the values that have shaped our success so far, and looking to shape our mutual relationship in a way that enhances the building of a “harmonious world.”

22Prime Minister Harper has grown much keener on the relationship with China, as seen not just in the Joint Statement issued during his visit to China in December 2009, but in his reaffirmation of our strategic partnership during the state visit of President Hu Jintao in June 2010. The Prime Minister views China partly through the lens of his own self-proclaimed vision of Canada as an “energy superpower” and his recognition of Canada as a Pacific nation with important investment in an Asia–Pacific Gateway (see Harper 2009 and 2010). However, without a specific commitment to creating the infrastructure that will enable China to have strategic access to our petroleum resources, Canada cannot figure in China’s calculations of energy security. In his speech to the Canada–China Business Council on June 24, 2010, President Hu expressed the need to deepen energy and resource cooperation and expand two-way investment, and also expressed China’s willingness to participate in the Asia–Pacific gateway projects.

23With China’s rise and growing dependence on our resources, we have a unique opportunity to take advantage of China’s “going out” strategy to forge new and more durable links that will bind us more intimately. We have the mineral resources and China has vast financial resources, in addition to a growing market, but commodity exchange will not suffice to cement enduring relations. We also have the cultural and human resources that can be put together in common enterprises, projects, and institutions that will further build intimacy and trust. To achieve these goals, we must commit to better and fuller integration of Chinese immigrants into the mainstream of professional and managerial careers, and turn our strategic vision across the Pacific to achieve a complementary partnership of distinct actors with differing perspectives but common goals.

24Rather than view our interests in strictly regional or hemispheric terms, we should promote Canada as a platform for all-round cooperation in China’s global “going out” strategy. We should fully realize and utilize our unique advantages as a multicultural country of immigration, our open markets and our sophisticated and stable financial system, as Yuen Pau Woo points out in this volume. These advantages, like our social and political system, are grounded on a robust foundation of the rule of law that is open to innovation and the participation of new actors. Further, our advanced education and technology should be put to greater and better use, ensuring that our common ventures will be more energy-efficient, cleaner and more environmentally sustainable, as urged by Thomas d’Aquino. We can and should create new synergies in our areas of technological strength in energy, transportation systems, aerospace and telecommunications. However, the ultimate test of our relationship will be measured, not in profits or even common prosperity, but by the way that we will have transformed a cultural divide into a meeting point of mutual appreciation and a network of indissoluble bonds. Only then will we achieve the “harmony without sameness” that both sides sincerely yearn for.



Burney, Derek. (2009). “China Ascending: A Policy Update Paper.” Calgary: Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. Online as [consulted January 14, 2011].

Canadian International Council. (2010). Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked Age. Toronto: Canadian International Council. Online at [consulted January 14, 2011].

Haglund, David G. (2000). The North Atlantic Triangle Revisited: Canadian Grand Strategy at Century’s End. Toronto: Irwin.

Harper, Stephen. (2009, December 7). “Canada and Korea in the Asia–Pacific Era: Building a Stronger, Closer Partnership.” Speech to the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea. Ottawa: Office of the Prime Minister. Online at [consulted January 14, 2011].

Harper, Stephen. (2010, June 24). “PM Welcomes Chinese President Hu.” Speech to the Canada–China Business Council. Ottawa: Office of the Prime Minister. Online at [consulted January 14, 2011].

Hu Jintao. (2010, June 24). “Promote the All-Round Development of the China– Canada Strategic Partnership.” Speech to the Canada–China Business Council, Ottawa. Online at [consulted January 14, 2011].

Ministry of National Defence. (2010, March 12). “Strategic Environment.” Canada First Defence Strategy. Online at [consulted January 14, 2011].

Office of the Prime Minister. (2009, December 3). “Canada–China Joint Statement.” Ottawa: Office of the Prime Minister. Online at [consulted January 14, 2011].

Pratt, David. (2008, Winter). “Is There a Grand Strategy in Canadian Foreign Policy?” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 10:2.

Sloan, Elinor. (2010, June). “China’s Strategic Behaviour.” Calgary: Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. Online as [consulted January 14, 2011].

The Greenspon GPS project (2010). Online at (consulted January 14, 2011)


Professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa and was visiting professor at the department of international relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing in 2009. He previously taught at the University of Alberta (1984-1990), the University of Arizona (1983-84) and the University of California at San Diego (1981-83). He received his BA in East AsianStudies from the University of Toronto in 1974, a diploma in Philosophy from Beijing University in 1976, and his MA (1979) and his PhD (1984) in political science from the University of California, Berkeley.
Most recently he co-ordinated the Chinese domestic background theme of the Canadian International Council’s China Working Group and authored two of its papers: “Canada in China’s Grand Strategy” and “Structure and Process in China’s Foreign Policy Making – implications for Canada”. He is the author of The Empire’s New Clothes: Cultural Particularism and Universality in China’s Rise to Global Status (Palgrave, 2007), “China and the Six- Party Talks” (2007), “Mencius and World Order Theories” (2010), “China’s Regionalization Policies: Illiberal internationalism or Neo-Mencian Benevolence?” (2009), “Peaceful Rise? Soft Power? Human Rights in China’s New Multilateralism”(2007) as well as numerous other articles on Chinese politics, East Asian foreign relations and Sino-Canadian relations

© Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa | University of Ottawa Press, 2011

Conditions d’utilisation :


Volume papier
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search