Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Glavin: The Liberals are being shifty about China



Glavin: The Liberals are being shifty about China


Prime 
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping as they take part in a bi-lateral meeting at the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey on Monday, November 16, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Sleaze and Cheese, what a pair!

Here’s a foreign policy challenge for you.
What is the most effective way for Canada’s new Liberal government to manipulate public opinion so as to manufacture enthusiasm for ever more supine diplomatic and trade relationships with the unelected billionaires who control the economy, the state security apparatus, the news media and the overseas acquisitions arms of the People’s Republic of China?
Specifically, how should Canada’s various federal departments and agencies best allocate their resources on Beijing’s behalf to confound the incorrigible devotion of ordinary Canadians to such quaint notions as the universality of human rights? How can the Canadian fondness for liberal democratic ideals be subordinated to the interests of that exceedingly well-connected cohort within Canada’s corporate sector that has banked its fortunes on the continued enrichment China’s gluttonous ruling class?
It’s quite a challenge, as you might imagine, but ever since Justin Trudeau landed in the Prime Minister’s Office last October, the project has been taken up by the self-replenishing coterie of former and current politicians, diplomats and senior civil servants, endowment-lucky academics, seminar-convenors and lobbyists associated with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and, of course, the Canada-China Business Council.
For several weeks now, the new Global Affairs ministry has been quietly undertaking a root-and-branch re-evaluation of Canada’s myriad relationships with China. Not much attention has been drawn to it. You didn’t hear anything about it during last fall’s federal election campaign. It doesn’t show up in the mandate letters Trudeau issued to Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion or International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland. No mention of it was made in the new government’s throne speech in December.
“This strikes me as being on purpose,” Charles Burton, Brock University’s veteran China analyst and specialist in human rights and comparative politics, told me the other day. “The idea is to take the human rights and social agenda and make it separate from everything else, to make it just lip service, to make it useless. I think there is something like a cover-up going on here. This is beyond the ordinary.”
A full-bore free-trade deal with the Beijing regime is on the table, along with the proposition that Canada should back China’s admission into the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, enter into a collaboration between the Chinese military and the Canadian Forces so intimate that Canadian officers would be on a “first-name basis” with their Chinese counterparts, and enact a “public energy transportation corridor” in Canada, operated by the private sector, to satisfy Beijing’s insistence on access to Canadian energy resources.
Owing to the surfeit of public opinion polling data suggesting that Canadians would take a very dim view of this sort of thing, the most strenuous exertion in message-concoction and re-branding will be required to help us all learn to like it. Dion and Freeland are getting all sorts of advice on how to go about that, too.
In the run-up to last October’s federal vote, a document stamped secret and expediently leaked from the foreign affairs bureaucracy bemoaned a standoffish and suspicious attitude towards Chinese capital and influence in Canada that was occasionally articulated Prime Minister Stephen Harper, sometimes shared by Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats, almost always by Elizabeth May’s Greens, and overwhelmingly, by Canadians themselves. The document warned that the full embrace of Beijing that Canada’s China trade lobby and the bureaucracy envisioned would require “leading public opinion on a controversial relationship and devoting less bandwidth to other regions and relationships.”
It was that same bureaucracy that joined with Trudeau in celebrating the intrusion of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) into Canada’s resource sector during the fierce 2011-2012 debates that divided even the Conservative cabinet and caucus. Harper eventually opted for a red light on further SOE acquisitions after the colossal $15-billion takeover of Calgary’s Nexen Energy by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Bureaucrats burst into hurrahs during Trudeau’s post-election visit to the Lester B. Pearson Building on Sussex Drive last November, and were especially pleased when Trudeau chose Peter Harder, former president of the Canada-China Business Council, to lead his transition team.
Here’s where we are now.
“We have to move beyond basing our criticisms of Chinese SOE behaviour on the notion of the preservation of an existing liberal and fair economic order.” This is according to Pascale Massot, policy adviser to Dion. Massot’s advice appears in a submission, headlined The Political Economy of Canadian Public Opinion on China, in a compendium of dramatic policy proposals making the rounds in Global Affairs Canada. It’s titled Moving Forward: Issues in Canada-China Relations.
Among other things, Massot recommends: “Challenge our perception of developed countries’ firm behaviour as liberal and of Chinese firm behaviour as illiberal while encouraging global and sustainable Chinese competitiveness.” In a list of image-makeover initiatives Canada should undertake on Beijing’s behalf, Massot proposes that a recasting of China as a “fully-fledged global player” like any of Canada’s traditional partners and a “potential collaborator in the pursuit of the many goals Canada is seeking to achieve,” for instance, will “resonate with the Canadian public.”
Well, good luck with that. Opinion polls show that the more Canadians learn about the Chinese regime, the less they like it. Familiarity seems to breed contempt. The more Chinese money sloshes around in Canada, the less Canadians want it. Polls undertaken by the Pew Research Centre show China’s favorability rating among Canadians, 58 per cent a decade ago, had dropped 20 points by last year. Only 14 per cent of Canadians like the idea of a Chinese state-owned enterprise gaining control of a major Canadian company.
Canadians are anxious about China’s cyber-attacks on Canadian institutions, about the increasingly wicked repression Beijing is inflicting on the Chinese people, and about the implications for Canadian society of a more powerful, more outwardly aggressive regime headed by the megalomaniac Xi Jinping. So what should Ottawa do?
“The narrative for deeper engagement should be rewritten.” That recommendation comes from a submission co-authored by Wendy Dobson, former associate deputy finance minister, and Paul Evans, a China specialist and professor of international relations at the University of British Columbia. “The most difficult part is explaining the necessity of living with China rather than expecting or requiring major changes in its basic institutions, even as we try to advance concepts like the rule of law and good governance and protect Canadian values and institutions at home.”
But should the federal government devote resources to any elaborate exercise instructing Canadians on how they should think about China, and telling us not be so fussy about the distinction between liberal governments and illiberal regimes? Should our own government be teaming up with foreign-tied lobbyists, partisan bureaucrats and vested business interests in public-relations campaigns designed to build popular support for the policies those interests and lobbyists and bureaucrats want the government to adopt?
Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?
Terry Glavin is an author and journalist.