Canada’s Chinese Dilemma: Policy, Trade, Russia

One of Canada’s foremost political think-tanks is concerned that Canada does not currently have an Ambassador to China. With a major political event taking place next month in Beijing, and with Russia needing Chinese economic support more than ever, the MacDonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa believes that Canada needs an official presence in China immediately. Canada has not had an Ambassador in China since late last year.

The MacDonald-Laurier Institute is concerned that China is courting Russian economic interests as that country faces major trade sanctions from the West. As well, beginning on October 16 China’s ruling Communist Party will hold its five-year National Congress.

Charles Burton, senior fellow at the MacDonald-Laurier Institute says next month’s meeting of the National Congress will set the tone for China’s domestic and national policy for the next five years.

“For Chinese politics it’s the most significant meeting. They will announce the new leadership that determines China’s domestic and international policy, and the current strong-man Xi Jinping is looking to stay in power for a third term. China wants to establish itself as the dominant power, on the assumption that the United States and allies that the United States supported are fading. And, that China will assume a position of the dominant superpower as the economic and political center of the world.”

Burton says that China has proven to be an unreliable trading partner for Canada, and without a strong official presence China will only continue to use trade contracts to exert political pressure.

“The Chinese have made clear that they will punish us by retaliation through trade. Canola seed, they were more or less upfront saying, well, we’re doing this so that you will release the Huawei CFO, who was being held under an extradition request by the United States. So, if they’re going to arbitrarily violate trade contracts there have to be consequences for China. And, so far, to the best of my knowledge, Canada did nothing.”

Canada’s previous Ambassador to China stepped down late last year and no replacement has been named by Ottawa to date. Burton believes that the Canadian government is currently between a rock and a hard place on this issue.

“I think that this is really about a big split between Canadian public opinion that we shouldn’t be tolerating Chinese economic coercion, against the elite in Ottawa who believe the most important thing is the promotion of prosperity through trade and investment. The government seems to be paralyzed into complete inaction at exactly the time that we really need to be resetting our China policy to make it consistent with our Canadian interests.”

Burton says that Russian and Chinese interests are more allied now than they have been in decades.

“If Russia has to rely on China for alternative markets for the energy that has been sanctioned by Europe and being denied access to Western financial markets, China could start to use Russia to further its own political ends. Once you put those two together, clearly the country in command is China.”