Published: 14:07, October 8, 2021 | Updated: 14:04, October 8, 2021
PDF View
Canada urged to review its China policy
By ​Rena Li in Toronto

Ottawa puts itself at risk by aligning too closely with Washington, experts say

Canada should pursue an independent foreign policy based on coexistence, rather than be caught between competition between China and the United States, participants of an internet panel discussion hosted by the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy said this week.

"This is ultimately about great-power competition between China and the US," said one of the panelists, Yuen Pau Woo, a member of the Canadian Senate and a former president and chief executive of the Asia Pacific Foundation, on Monday.

"Whatever the merits of the Chinese or American actions, we were caught in between. We will pursue a policy on China yet to be determined, but which is based on coexistence rather than elimination of the threat."

Following the release of the Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou last month there have been calls for a clearer articulation of Canada's policy toward China, Woo said. However, he is not enthusiastic about doing so now, he said, because "the fever" in relations between Ottawa and Beijing for the last three or four years has yet to break.

Relations between Canada and China have deteriorated sharply over the past three years, most notably after the arrest of Meng at the behest of the United States.

Another panelist, Henri-Paul Normandin, former Canadian ambassador and deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said Canada cannot fall in entirely behind the US if it wishes to preserve an independent foreign policy.

"American foreign policy is not always in our best interest. Obviously, the US is a close partner, and is a good partner, but sometimes they make choices which are not in our best interests."

Woo stressed that the most important thing Canadians need to do on China policy is "to change the narrative on China in the media".

Canada can express its disagreement with China, "but if we continue down the path where our national security agencies, universities and private sector companies essentially stay away from China because if somehow every Chinese entity, individual or immigrant is suspected as being connected to the state, we no longer can have a China policy of any sort".

Western countries believe they were "unwitting dupes" of China, the captive of Chinese cheap goods and services, Woo said.

"That's a gross misrepresentation of the story. We were willing partners in all of this and not only that, but we also prospered on the backs of cheap Chinese labor."

The Chinese have been producing cheap goods for the West, "earning cents on the dollar", he said, "and we were very happy for that to take place because it gave us an era of low inflation, high productivity growth and rising standards of living".

Woo warned that it is a "misrepresentation" and "very dangerous to suggest that China tricked the West into the world it is in now". The West has an economic conflict with China because China wants to produce high tech goods and wants to compete in the market, he said.

'Fundamental aspiration'

"If we fail to see that I think we fail to understand the very fundamental aspiration of the Chinese people, which is to break out of the 40-year trap of producing cheap stuff at very low wages."

Normandin said: "It's understandable that the US wants to get tough on China in the context of global competition, but I'm afraid that the US may be overdoing it."

Normandin, a former counselor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, quoted a recent article in Foreign Affairs Magazine, The Age of America First by Richard Haass, who said that "competing with China is essential, but it cannot provide the organizing principle for American foreign policy in an era increasingly defined by global challenges".

"I think a little recalibration may be necessary on the side of the US," Normandin said. "You know, the US is not always right, and sometimes they will get things wrong. We just have to think about Iraq … I think we'll have to navigate this and not simply stick on one side."