Saturday, October 20, 2007

Correspondence with a Former Student About the Plight of Being Chinese Ambassador to Canada

From my former student: Hi, I meant to ask you the other day about the Chinese ambassador to Canada Lu Shumin. I was a student ambassador at the City University of Hong Kong and was involved in a presentation that the Ambassador gave. It was quite a status quo speech about Sino-Canadian relations (bilateral communication will strengthens both countries). I had a chance to speak with him afterward and mentioned that you were one of my Professors at Brock. He said that he knew of you and then the conversation stopped abruptly, haha. I was wondering what your perception of his current involvement in Canadian-Sino relations is. Is he a productive ambassador? How is he trying to improve relations with Canada, if at all? I was just wondering how you felt about his position and goals? Thanks and have a good weekend.

My reply: I do have some sympathy for Mr. Lu as I think it is a lot harder to have to act as Chinese Ambassador to Canada than to be his counterpart, Rob Wright, the Canadian Ambassador to China. This is because as Ambassador he has to fulfil the mandate given him by the Chinese Communist Party. The mandate of the Mr. Lu's Embassy is to promote China's interests abroad by engaging foreign nationals with influence in their country and to encourage "understanding" of China. In our case the "understanding" that is hoped to be arrived at is that China's human rights record is not as bad as western media, NGOs and governments allege, and that such human rights shortcomings that do exist are due to historical, developmental and cultural factors that will be overcome "although it will take a long time" (a mantra repeated in both formal and informal discussions). It is a humiliating position to have to take and one that is less and less tenable as more and more information about what is really going on in China becomes more readily available to Canadians. Then the next recourse is to make dark threats that Canada's economic interests will suffer if we don't keep quiet on China human rights, keep away from the Dalai Lama, and the Uighurs, and the Falungong, and the Taiwanese, etc., etc. These threats for the most part don't seem to have much substance to them, but Mr. Lu is obliged to go through the motions by instructing his subordinates to strike a sort of vaguely menacing pose. It is a kind of diplomacy of desperation. It is for this kind of reason that the Chinese Foreign Ministry has trouble attracting top quality recruits these days. I guess what it comes down to is that Mr. Lu is in the wrong job at the wrong time. But I think there is no reason to doubt that he loves his country and is trying his best under difficult circumstances.

1 comment:

Charles Burton said...

I received the following comment about this posting.:
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Correspondence with a Former Student About the Pli...".
The text is:

I disagree with some of what you posted:
1. Refering to the Chinese ambassador, you state he/she has to take "humilitating" position on certain issues with regard to human rights, Tibet/Taiwan etc.
A more appropriate word to use would be "defensive". "Humiliating" is excessive.
2. You also state the Chinese government's official position is "less and less tenable as more and more information about what is really going on in China becomes more readily available." I find the opposite is true. Most of the time, the more a laowai understands China, her history, particulary recent history, culture and national conditions, the more they begin to understand the attitude and aims of the Chinese government. Not to say they agree with those positions but, they come to understand the reasoning behind those actions. For instance, those who understand the country do not clamour for overnight revolution to overthrow the CCP but are more inclined to support a gradual process of democratization.
3. You describe Mr. Lu as being "in the wrong job at the wrong time". I would disagree here as well. There has never been a more appropriate time to represent China to the world. The country's growth is continuing and China is ever presently on the minds of intellectuals, politicians, and has become the talk of the West, both as a source of opportunity and as a threat. It is at this crucial juncture when China is emerging and increasingly engaged with the world that representation becomes of greater importance.
A Guest

I have decided to post it despite the author not revealing his or her identity. I am reluctant to post anonymous comments. I would prefer that people who who have good reasons for wanting to conceal who they are e-mail me an explanation and consider providing some public clarification for this, such as "I am an employee of the Embassy of the PRC to Canada" or simply, "I am a citizen of China and therefore fear the consequences of speaking my mind out publicly." I would also excuse Federal civil servants from having to go on record. But is general I think that stating one's name is what having the courage of one's convictions is all about.