Let me expand on my thinking here:
In May 2011, the Prime Minister appointed one of his most trusted and powerful members of Cabinet, John Baird, as Minister of Foreign Affairs in his first majority government Cabinet. This appointment was seen as a sign that the Government would be putting considerably enhanced emphasis on its “principled foreign policy” after achieving a majority government. And indeed Mr. Baird showed remarkable vigour, enthusiasm and genuineness in carrying out this role until he announced his resignation to Parliament last month.
When John Baird chose China for his first official visit as Foreign Affairs Minister, it sent out a strong signal that the Government would finally become much more assertive in pursuing Canada’s interests in the Asia-Pacific. Baird had indicated to the media that he “gets it” that enhanced relations with China are critically important to Canada’s future economic prosperity.
But to the disappointment of many, Mr. Baird did not publicly raise human rights concerns while in China that trip nor did he make any public reiteration of Canada’s condemnation of China’s support for brutal authoritarian regimes in the Third World. Indeed he bent over backwards to affirm the PRC regime by publicly referring to China as a “friend” and “an important ally” of Canada. In this way he categorized China’s Communist repressive one-Party non-democratic state as in the same terms as those nations that share our values and perspectives on international politics such as Britain, France and the United States. So much for “principled foreign policy” with China.
Indeed since Mr. Baird became Foreign Minister, Canada has shown undue weakness in our interactions with China.
The context for this has been that Government of China under its new leader Xi Jinping has become the most repressive since the end of the horrendous and disastrous Communist Party policy of the “Proletarian Cultural Revolution” 35 years ago. In addition to considerably enhanced censorship of all media and the internet, and an associated campaign of suppression of “western influences” in China, new measures to make foreign business operations in China less competitive in that market have been implemented. Moreover currently China is undergoing a close to unprecedented factional purge of those that oppose Mr. Xi’s leadership in the military, security apparatus and among senior elements associated with his predecessor, Hu Jintao, by investigating them in a secret process internal to the Party for “corruption.” As there seems to be no Chinese Communist official whose lifestyle is anyway compatible with his official salary, this is an effective device to remove political challengers from contention in China. For example Mr. Xi received a 62% pay rise last month bringing his take-home pay to $22,256 a year. Nevertheless he had sent his daughter to study at Harvard paying fees that would exceed his stated income (and clearly untroubled by the impact of “western influences” on her). But Xi Jinping is not purging himself from the Communist Party as a consequence.
Remarkably, Canada has agreed to a pact with China that will cover “the return of property related to people who would have fled to Canada and would have been involved in corrupt activities”, as Canada’s ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, announced it in an interview with the China Daily. So China’s “foxhunt” purge anti-graft campaign will extend to our shores with Canadian collaboration. But we will have to take the Communist Party’s word on whose bank deposits and houses and businesses we will be handing over to Beijing. Canada cannot obtain any assurance of support of due process of law in the Chinese Government’s claims under this pact as that is not available in China’s unitary system with no independent impartial judiciary.
This was followed hard by the treaty Canada signed with China late last year to exchange information on Customs investigations. This one seems a particularly wrong-headed international treaty for us considering that China’s state enterprises are evidently behind much illegal export of Canadian classified and proprietary technology in the military and commercial sectors. So why do we want to give the Chinese state a heads-up on our interdiction methods all the better for them to figure out how to evade them?
Both of these recent agreements signed under Mr. Baird’s watch suggest that Canada is making significant concessions to demands from the People's Republic of China without any assurance of reciprocal concessions on the part of the PRC in response to our concerns about market access and human rights. For example, we have not asked that China respond positively by resolving the consular case of Kevin and Julia Garratt prior to our announcing the above two bilateral agreements with China.
Mr. Baird was a member of the group in the Harper cabinet (along with Ed Fast and Joe Oliver) who lobbied for more Chinese state investment in Canada, seeing as the promotion of Canada’s prosperity as the primary interest in relations with China. Others such as Jason Kenney, Peter MacKay and James Moore give more relative priority to the protection of Canada’s security and Canadian values in our interactions with the Government of China. So while the PM and Mr Kenney met with the Dalai Lama when he came to Canada in 2012, Mr. Baird did not.
But in fact over the period that Mr. Baird was Foreign Minister our economic relations with China remain much biased in China’s favour due to the severe restrictions on foreign involvement in China’s economy imposed by China’s government; difficulties not resolved by our recently ratified Canada-China Foreign Investment Protection Agreement. Chinese cyber and economic and military espionage Canada remains a very serious threat to Canada’s security. China’s human rights violations including against Tibetans and Uyghurs, human rights defender lawyers and proponents of liberal democratic norms of governance in China have become worse not better under the leadership of Xi Jinping. The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Liu Xiaobo, remains incommunicado in a Chinese prison.
We all wish Mr. Baird well in his retirement from politics. But the bottom line is that he was not strong enough nor principled enough in his approach to Canada’s relations with China.
But Mr. Baird’s unexpected resignation does offer an opportunity to Canada to re-think how best to realize Canadian interests in an emerging China.