Statement by Charles Burton to The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Affairs on The Rise Of China in the Global Economy and Implications for Canadian Policy, April 9, 2008
China's increasing importance in the global economy is one aspect of what Chinese policymakers refer to as «China's comprehensive rise to power». China's economic rise is understood as part of an overall strategy whose goal is transform China into a great power politically in international relations and to promote China's cultural influence in the world.. So most Chinese in their Government and in the Chinese populace at large see China's economic rise as serving China's greater purposes in the political and cultural realms.
Chinese people in general have a strong sense of the past glories of their historical tradition and enormous nationalistic pride in the greatness of Chinese civilization and culture. They also have a long historical memory and understand that history in terms of flourishing past, a decline in China's relative position in the world in 19th century, and a very significant opportunity for China to rise to possibly global prodominance in this 21st century.
That is to say, that when Marco Polo wrote his famous account of his Travels in China in the 13th century, Marco Polo decribed a China that was superior to the West in well nigh every way. China in that period was a global leader in technology --- porcelains, fine silk fabrics, and a large number of things that the West did not have the ability to produce at the same level of technological sophistication, and in arts, culture, governance, and trade: the port at Quanzhou in Southern Fujian being characterized by Marco Polo as a more important centre for international commerce than even Egypt's great port of Alexandria in that era.
But in the 19th century, China had lagged well behind the subsequent remarkable remarkable rise of the Western nations in commerce and technology. By1840 China was forced to make humiliating concessions to the British including ceding Hong Kong to Britain as a colony after China badly lost a with Britain over the right of Britain to sell opium in China. Subsequently when word of China's weakness became known, other imperialist powers were able to force ceding of Chinese territory and other concessions. China had become to be characterized as «the sick man of Asia». From the Chinese cultural point of view Japan joining in this plunder was the greatest blow to Chinese national pride. Japan had traditionally been perceived in China as a subsidiary culture to China's in a «big brother-little brother» relationship. But by 1932 Japan was even able to sever the entire Manchurian region of northeast China off from a weak Republic of China to form a Japanese controlled puppet state called Manchukuo and of course Japan occupied most of the rest of China's territory under brutal rule in the 2nd World War.
In 1949, Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong declared the establishment of the People's Republic of China with the words «The Chinese people have stood up!» China's new regime promised to redress the humiliations of the past inflicted on China by Western nations and the Japanese and restore China to greatness as what the Chinese refer to as a «modernized strong country»
After now 30 years of sustained high economic growth rates, China under the Chinese Communist Party regime is now a very important player in the world economy and a very importnat important factor in Canada's prosperity. I am very happy to see this Senate Committee investigating the implications of China's rise for Canadian policy. China's rise has very strong implications for the Canada and the entire world economic and political order in the years ahead, so it is incumbent on us to take it very seriously.
There is a school of thought popular among Chinese nationalists that sees China rising to a position of global predominance in years ahead. The argument goes that the United States is a declining power overextended in military adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere and has allowed itself to become mired in debilitating foreign debt, much it now held by China. As the U.S. grows weaker, a rising China can move to eventually supplant the U.S. in its rôle as the leading global superpower. China would thereby be able to use this strategic leverage to make Taiwan «return to the embrace of Motherland» as China puts it. This Chinese nationalist vision asserts that without the USA as a check on China's rise, China will be restored its rightful historical position as the pre-eminent global civilization. According to this view, the hegemony of the English-speaking peoples over the global affairs which has been in force for close to 200 years would come to an end and be replaced by a new Chinese global hegemony.
This sort of Chinese-dominated future is dependent on a number of factors that may not come to pass in years ahead, but I do think that regardless it is important to be aware of some concerns in China's continuing rise based on some things that we are observing now as China becomes more assertive in its bilateral relations and participation in global institutions such as the WTO and UN because China is a much more powerful nation than was the case even just a few years ago.
These concerns centre on China's sense of «global citizenship» in terms of China's willingness to follow the existing norms of international relations. This is to say that there are concerns about China's interpretation of its obligations to the United Nations human rights covenants that it has signed and its less than satisfactory rôle in the UN Human Rights Council and there are concerns that China is pushing the boundaries of the accepted consensus of the range of interpretation of the rules of the WTO in a number of areas including expectations of transparency and openess. China has also been reluctant to assume its share of responsibility to take action to address global environmental issues
I remain concerned that as China becomes a more powerful nation in the world that China may tend to impose its own interpretations of the terms of the important treaties and conventions that govern international relations in ways that would tend to serve Chinese interests more that the overall interests of the international community as a whole. Canada's prosperity, security and ability to stand for democracy and human rights as a universal good both domestically here in Canada and internationally could also be degraded by the rise of a China that does not come to internalize the values of global citizenship.
I therefore think that it is important that Canada devote more attention and resources to our relationship with China as a country that is important to Canada now and will almost certainly be much more important to Canada in years ahead. What we don't want is a powerful non-democratic strongly nationalistic China to attempt to impose non-democratic norms on the international order of an increasingly globalizing world into which Canada is more and more integrated. But a wealthy and powerful democratic China would be of benefit to to global prosperity, the environment we all share, and the cause of furthering international human rights.
So in conclusion I think that it is important that Canada continue to engage China bilaterally and multilaterally on ts international obligations to fulfil the terms of the UN Covenants and treaties it is pledged to uphold and to fulfil the terms of China's entry into the WTO. In this regard a future democratic China is strongly in the interests of both China and Canada.
Transcript of the Meeting can be found here