Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fragment from Washington Post Editorial on Mr, Bush's Trip to Beijing

Mr. Bush has confirmed that he will join Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Cuba's Raúl Castro in attending the Opening Ceremonies because he wishes "to cheer on our athletes" and because to do otherwise "would be an affront to the Chinese people." In fact, Mr. Bush is affronting those Chinese who have bravely tried to resist the regime's steamrolling of all dissent. And what if an intrepid protester manages to raise his or her voice for Tibet or religious freedom or an end to China's sponsorship of genocide in Darfur and is swarmed by the regime's thugs? What if Western media seeking to cover such an event are censored? We can only hope that in that event, Mr. Bush will stop cheering.

July 25: An interview with me about this is quoted in Michelle Collins "Beijing Olympics:To Attend or Not to Attend?" in the July 23 Embassy: Canada's Foreign Policy Newsletter available at:

What Will Be the Legacy of the Beijing Olympics?

While the games have yet to begin, it is already apparent that when the games are over, China's reputation in the world will not have been enhanced. Despite the massive investment in the Games that the Chinese Communist Government has made, China's image abroad has suffered badly due to the fiasco of the Olympic Torch relay. People throughout the world who previously were open to being convinced that China had "arrived" as a modern great nation now see China as a politically repressive, badly governed, authoritarian regime with serious environmental issues, especially if some of the Olympic events are postponed due to pollution. As the start of the Games approaches it appears unlikely that this negative impression will change and could well get worse if there are incidents at the Games that show the Chinese police acting with violence.

Most ordinary Chinese people are deeply offended at the West's support for the Tibetans and generally negative attitude toward their Government. So the Games have had the effect of increasing anti-Western nationalistic sentiment in China. This does not bode well for political liberalization in China in the years ahead.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

History and Victimization by the "Anti-China West"

I had some correspondence with some one I do not know who reads this blog and other things written by me available on the internet. He described him or herself as a "typical Chinese" aged 31. My correspondent is vitriolic in attitude to the Dalai Lama and appalled at the protests against the Olympic torch relay. He also feels that the West had blackened the reputation of Chinese products by over-dramatic reaction to the problems of lead paint found on toys, etc.

Here is a summary of my responses to him or her:
Much of his anger he traces back to the ravages of Western imperialism on China starting with the First Opium War of 170 years ago. I am with him on the idea that establishment of colonies and treaty ports in China was not a good thing by today's standards of assessment. But I would also say that it is also not good to have a "victimization" mentality which seeks to blame these historical events for China's political shortcomings today (as measured by UN Covenants, I mean). Basically the situation in China today is really about domestic factors. The really damaging events in recent history such as the Heavenly Kingdom of the Taipings Rebellion, failure of the 1911 Republic and lapse into warlordism,the Anti-Japanese War, the political persecution of innocent people in the political campaigns of the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s, the terrible famine incurred by the enormously tragically wrong-headed policies of the Great Leap Forward Campaign, the destruction of so many books, ancient buildings and artefacts in the Cultural Revolution etc. did not involve actually "the West" in a negative role. The Korean War can be an exception to this and close to a million Chinese lives were lost (although you don't see much acknowledgement by the DPRK authorities of this huge sacrifice made be the PLA "volunteers") But basically the people in South Korea are a lot better off than those living in a kind of political hell in the North so historical verdict would not see China supporting the North as such a good choice in today's terms.

Essentially Chinese people are responsible for China's issues today and the solutions are domestic too.

But the "China will eventually become democratic some time after Burton is dead" concept that my correspondent espouses is not one I find too reassuring. I would be more convinced if there were some signs that there is progress in this regard, but they are hard to find in a one-Party state with such efficient mechanisms for suppression of political dissent.

The Tibet issue to Tibetans is not really about how much worse the pre-1959 Dalai Lama regime was than Han rule today. Tibetans yearn for recognition of their identity and culture. It is not about their rational self interest. I judge that they will never give up their resistance to Han domination of what they regard as their sovereign native territory. Same goes for Uyghurs. International interest In these matters is based on universality of human entitlement to rights expressed in international Covenants.

A lot of people in the West believe that China should not use the Olympics to affirm moral claims in state behaviour at this time (including in Sudan, Burma, etc.). They do not want the Olympics to be a celebration of the current political regime.

The quality and safety problems with some Chinese imports are valid, but there are international institutions and the market to address these. There used to be issues in quality shortcomings in Canada wheat exports to China that were addressed this way too.

My conclusion:
I like hearing from Chinese people who challenge what I write about China here and elsewhere. There are always more things to talk about.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tragic Death of Diana O'Brien

The death of Diana O'Brien in Shanghai earlier this month has been given a lot of prominence in the Canadian media. From what I can piece together based on Geoff York's insightful piece about it in the morning's Globe, the alleged murderer, Chen Jun, a migrant worker from a poor village in Anhui, just 18 years-old, had recently been fired from his job in a restaurant near where Ms. O'Brien was lodging in Shanghai. The reason he was let go is because he is too klutzy and shy to do the job properly. So with no job and no money, he turned to petty theft to make ends meet.

Chen forced himself into Ms. O'Brien's apartment as she was unlocking the door to her place after she came home one evening. He threatened her with a knife and gathered up her laptop computer and camera. But unlike most Chinese victims of this sort of crime, instead of just letting him take the stuff and telling him to get out, Ms. O'Brien fought with him and chased Chen Jun down the stairs as he took off with a bag full of her modest possessions. In a panic, Chen then stabbed her to death in the stairwell. It was several hours before anyone noticed that Diana O'Brien had been killed. I do feel very sorry about this.

Chen Jun's story reveals that behind the facade of wealth and modernity in Shanghai most of the people living in that city are poor and scrambling to get by often in desperation. As one of my old friends in Shanghai wrote me about it in an e-mail this morning: "Shanghai is somehow very like what as Dickens wrote about of the 19th century London!"

Canada should thank the Chinese police for their work in solving this case. I also hope that the Canadian Consulate in Shanghai will request permission to attend the accused's trial with a view to ensuring that Chen Jun gets due process and that Diana O'Brien's family and friends can be assured that the true murderer is being held.

It is most likely that Chen Jun will be sentenced to death for the murder of Diana O'Brien. But I don't think that Mr. Chen deserves to die for what he is alleged to have done considering the circumstances.

March 13, 2009: News reports are that Chen Jun was sentenced to death but the execution delayed for 2 years. I suppose that this means that he will be get life imprisonment if his behaviour in prison is deemed "good" after the two years:

Monday, July 07, 2008

My Answers to Questions on Canada-China Relations Posed by a Student at McGill

Is it accurate to say that Chinese-Canadian relations are usually warmer under a Liberal government as opposed to a Conservative one? If so, why do you think that is the case?
That would not be accurate to say
because since 1970 we have had 4 Conservative Prime Ministers: Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and Stephen Harper. Clark, Mulroney and Campbell did not have China policies much different from those of Trudeau, Turner, Chretien and Martin. Stephen Harper's less compromising stance on China's poor compliance with some international norms for state behaviour is part and parcel of his overall approach to government. But this is not to say that it is not associated with changing international dynamics that transcend partisan politics. So under a future Liberal government the Harper-initiated approach could be continued.

Do you agree with the statement occasionally made in the Canadian media that, as Jeffrey Simpson put it, Chinese-Canadians “overwhelmingly” vote Liberal. If so, why do you think this is the case?
I am not too familiar with the statistics on voting behaviour of self-identified ethnic groups in Canada, although I have heard this before from both Liberals and Conservatives. There is a perception that Chinese-Canadians feel grateful for Government programs facilitating migration from China to Canada that they identify with the Liberal Party.
The hard work of the Conservative Government's Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity, Jason Kenney appears to be changing this perception. I understand that Michael Ignatieff plans to spend much of the summer making appearances to counter Conservative Party progress in establishing strong relations with self-identified Canadian ethnic groups.

Why do you think Harper toughened Canada’s stance towards China in 2006?
I think his motivations were to better reflect his own and Canadians' values on the moral imperative to stand with Chinese people whose entitlements to human rights have been repressed by the Chinese Communist Party's policies. My 2005 report for DFAIT that showed that the "quiet diplomacy" of the Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue was ineffective may have made a small contribution to the policy debate.

There have been suggestions that a large part of Harper’s hardened stance towards China had to do with domestic politics. For example, some have said it is partly a Conservative attempt to win over the segment of Chinese-Canadians critical of the regime so as to undercut the Liberals’ electoral success with that ethnic group. Another view suggests that it is an attempt to reclaim the “human rights mantle” the Liberals have supposedly possessed since the Trudeau era. How much of the policy switch towards China do you think was motivated by domestic politics?
It has been good domestic politics as public opinion polling shows that most Canadians want Canada to be frank and transparent in its approach to China on human rights. But most recent immigrants from China do not support this approach. So I think it is more about doing the right thing for Canada than anything else.

Has Canada’s firmer stance with China over the last two years been more or less effective at bringing about positive domestic reform within that country than the bilateral human rights dialogues were? Or have the effects of both approaches been negligible? Are all of these approaches merely devised to make it appear like Canada’s politicians are doing something about human rights abuses in China or are they genuine attempts to bring about reform within that country? How realistic do you think it is that a middle power such as Canada could actually influence domestic reform in China?
Chinese domestic factors are the most critical for determining China's political destiny. It is important that Canada not be complicit in supporting non-democratic institutions by standing idly by and tacitly accept attempts by the Chinese regime to put forward a moral equivalence of their political institutions and ours. Our Parliament and their National People's Congress for example are by now means comparable
. We should not leave any impression that Canada accepts them as only varying due to cultural and historical factors. The Chinese regime clearly does not like the dark side of their regime such as repression of freedom of expression, freedom of association, brutal suppression of dissidents to be known in the West. So being open and frank about our concerns is a way to disincentive this sort of thing. But it is Chinese people in China that will bring China to democracy. The best we can do is to support agents of change in ways consistent with international norms of interaction between sovereign states. And we expect the Chinese Embassy to Canada to behave in ways consistent with international diplomatic treaties and not attempt to intimidate Canadians of Chinese origin in Canada or engage in espionage here.

Why has the Lai Changxing case been largely overlooked by both journalists and politicians alike when examining the current poor state of Canada-China relations? The common narrative presented by the media is that the decline in Canada-China relations began in early 2006 when the newly elected Conservative government toughened Canada’s approach with China. Another perspective relayed to me by a former bureaucrat with connections in the Chinese government was that, in fact, the decline in relations began near the end of the Chretien government. Supposedly, during a meeting between Chretien and former Premier Zhu Rongji, Chretien made the error of suggesting that as long as the Chinese government promised to waive the death penalty for Lai Changxing, Canada would, in return, extradite him to China. When the Lai case continued to make little headway in Canadian courts, even after the Chinese made the exemption Chretien sought, the relations between the two countries soured because the whole affair was seen as a breach of faith by Chinese officials. Seen from this perspective, Harper’s policies have really only aggravated an already declining relationship. Do you think there is any validity to this interpretation? How much of an impact do you think the Lai case has had on China-Canada relations? How realistic do you think the suggestion is that if Canada were to, hypothetically, extradite Lai Changxing tomorrow we would suddenly see progress on a variety of issues currently dogging relations such as the Celil affair or China’s reluctance to grant Canada “Approved Destination Status”?
I agree that the Lai case was bungled by the Liberals and bureaucracy. They should have appreciated that the Canadian judiciary might render judgements making it impossible for Lai to be returned to China. So we raised Chinese expectations that they would get Lai back and now the Chinese authorities feel betrayed by us. ADS is said to be related to the Lai case, but another factor might be the Canadian refugee determination system in general that has led to a large number of corrupt Chinese officials and criminals being able to escape being made accountable to Chinese justice permanently by touching base in Canada and making a refugee claim. Not sure that there is much basis for characterizing Canada-China relations as "poor." But Canadian exports' share of the Chinese market has been declining for more than 10 years, so I would take that as an objective indicator of something being not right.

How damaging has the ongoing Celil affair been on Sino-Canadian relations? How far should Canada go to achieve Celil’s release to the detriment of Sino-Canadian relations at large?
I don't think that the Celil affair has damaged overall Sino-Canadian relations
. I think we should do everything we can consistent with international diplomatic norms to get the Chinese Government to accept that Mr. Celil is a Canadian and address his case in accord with international standards for foreign nationals arrested outside their home country. I don't think we should ever give up.

When quoted in a Maclean’s article two years ago (RE: Tories Deadlocked over Canada-China Relations, November 2006), you suggested that Canada’s firmer stance towards China, particularly regarding human rights concerns, would likely not affect trade between the two countries because the Chinese rarely linked the two issues together. In a Globe and Mail essay recently, Peter Harder suggested that the continuing chill between Canada and China, which many attribute to Harper’s tougher stance on human rights, is now resulting in lost contracts for Canadian companies doing business in China. Do you think that your original assessment two years ago still rings true or has it changed at all? How effectively has Canada harnessed the increasing trade opportunities presented by China’s economic rise in recent years when compared to other industrialized nations such as Australia? Are we remaining competitive or are we lagging behind?
Mr. Harder was unable to provide any evidence to back up this claim. So I think my original assessment remains unchallenged. Canada's approach to trade promotion is rather fragmented in that the DFAIT, EDC, Provincial Economic Offices and CCBC do not coordinate their efforts very well. We also lack expertise in Chinese and cultural knowledge compared to the Trade Promotion people in Australia. We are definitely lagging behind. I don't see the problem so much as attributable to Mr. Harper as to Mr. Harder himself as a director of CCBC.

Do you think that recent developments this year such as the opening of new trade consulates, the expressed support of the “One China” policy, and the appointment of David Emerson to Minister of Foreign Affairs, are indications that Canada is softening its stance with China? Does this constitute an affirmation that Canada’s China policy over the last two years has been ineffectual?
No. I don't. The "One China" policy may not have much presence in what we do with China. I personally see it as inappropriate because this issue is a domestic Chinese concern. Conversely, China does nor have a "One Canada" policy, nor should they. I think the new trade offices will only be effective if we put the right people into them.

Do you agree with Harper’s decision to not attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games? Why?
Olympic opening ceremonies function as a celebration of the host nation. There is no tradition of foreign leaders attending them. Mr. Harper indicated that he has other commitments on August 8. But Canada will send Cabinet-level representation to the ceremony.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

China Nationalist's Interpretation of Increase in Price of Oil

A Chinese friend explained to me today that the United States is purposefully artificially inflating the world price of oil as means to force China to raise the value of the RMB yuan. The increase in the price of oil will also make the cost of production of Chinese products more expensive and therefore render them less competitive in the U.S. market. Furthermore igher oil prices increase the cost of shipping products from China to the United States. So all three factors will make Chinese products less competitive in the U.S. market.

To most Canadians this interpretation is rather far-fetched and irrational. But to the Chinese nationalist's mind when things go wrong, such as gas prices going up by 18% as they have in China recently, the default response is to blame it on hostile foreign forces. The idea in this case is that hostile elements in the United States are manipulating world oil prices as a means to make problems for China. I strongly suspect that this may be in interpretation that many Chinese would readily accept without question.

Irrational nationalism can be a very dangerous thing.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

David Emerson is a True Mandarin?

Gary Mason's column in Saturday's Globe and Mail entitled "Will Emerson re-enter the fray in a new riding?" (p.A11) says: "Mr. Emerson speaks fluent Chinese and is married to a Chinese-Canadian."

Seems that the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and I are more alike than I had previously been aware!

A fluent Mandarin speaking Minister of Foreign Affairs would certainly be a great boon for Canada.

Strange that this information about David Emerson's fluency in Chinese does not seem to have been reported in any of the Canadian-Chinese media reports about our new Foreign Minister that I have seen.

This claim in The Globe and Mail about Mr. Emerson reminds me that in years past the Chinese media reported that the Chinese Premier at the time, Zhou Enlai, was fluent in 8 languages. But despite his alleged amazing linguistic skills. he used interpreters in his meetings with non-Chinese as a way to gain strategic advantage in negotiations.