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.