Friday, August 21, 2009

Was Stockwell Day the Best Choice to Send to China?

When Stockwell Day made his not so historic visit to China in April, he seemed a rather odd choice for the Conservatives to make, to handle sensitive negotiations.

Like many in the Party and the majority of their right-wing supporters, he was not a fan of the country.

They claimed that this had to do with their human rights abuses, which indeed are real; but the Reform/Alliance (now 'Conservatives') are to human rights what Sylvester is to Tweety Bird. Something to chew up and spit out.

Their disdain for China is about their ideology and the firm belief that the Cold War is still hot and therefore China and Russia are our mortal enemies.

However, they now realize that China could be a very important trading partner during a time of recession, so ideology takes second place. For now anyway.

Mark MacKinnon, Asian correspondent for the Globe and Mail and one of my favourite bloggers, writes about the Ottawa-Bejing relations before and after Day's visit.

Now I know that Jim Flaherty and several others from the party have been there since, and Flaherty gave us the old thumbs up. But I take that with a grain of salt, because he also raised those thumbs to Christian extremist Charles McVety, when he scrapped the national childcare plan and to AIG when he allowed 40 year mortgages to taint our sound banking system.

So I guess I'll wait to draw my conclusions. But to Mr. MacKinnon - the BEFORE:

Mark MacKinnon's Blog
March 30, 2009

Beijing: The man in the bathtub is Lai Changxing. He's reading a newspaper that says “Canada Real Estate News” and “Job Service Centre.” This is how China's Southern Weekly newspaper – and many ordinary Chinese – envision life in Canada for China's most wanted man, someone accused by Beijing of heading a $10-billion smuggling empire before fleeing to Canada in 1999.

With press like this, it's hard to believe sometimes, but there was a time – barely a decade ago – when this country's leaders referred to Canada as China's “best friend in the world.”That statement, made by then-Premier Zhu Rongji during one of those ballyhooed “Team Canada” business promotion trips of the Jean Chrétien era, was perhaps an overstatement made by a very polite host, but there was a bit of substance to it at the time.

Canadian-Chinese friendship dates back to the fabled Norman Bethune's battlefield medical work during the Sino-Japanese war and has accelerated since 1970 when Canada recognized the People's Republic, two years before Richard Nixon dared travel to China.

The Globe and Mail even played a role, opening the first Western newspaper office here in 1959, back when it was still called Peking. Most importantly, there are 1.4 million Canadians of Chinese descent.

The Chrétien era was arguably the warmest stretch to date, in part because Canada's 20th prime minister was personal friends with former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin.

In 2005, someone named Paul Martin took it a step further by signing a “strategic partnership” agreement with visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao and promising to double trade within 10 years.

It took less than four years for all that warmth to almost completely disappear. The Stephen Harper era has been catastrophic in terms of Ottawa-Beijing ties, to the point that Canada has become almost irrelevant here.

(Charles Burton, who once served as a Canadian diplomat in China, wrote a devastating critique of what's wrong that's well worth a read. Or check out Colin Freeze's report that appeared in The Globe and Mail.)

In a sentence that summarized much of what Mr. Burton laid out over 25 pages, the Canada-China Business council recently warned that “Canada, despite its historic ties to China, is not seizing all of the opportunities China affords to investors and businesses.”

The two biggest irritants were Canada's decision to award honourary citizenship to the Dalai Lama (which was a good idea) and Mr. Harper's decision to skip last year's Summer Olympics in Beijing (which wasn't).

When asked why he takes stands that fly in the face of Canada's business interests in the world's largest market, Mr. Harper claimed that he doesn't want to sacrifice “important Canadian values” to the “almighty dollar.” Fine.

And if Mr. Harper was going around the world defending human rights anywhere they were in danger, his hard-line China policy might make sense. But given his government's unquestioning support of Israel during its recent assault on the Gaza Strip (to pick one example that I have some familiarity with), it's clear that he's not going to win a Nobel Peace Prize any time soon.

The problem Mr. Harper and his coterie have is they see the world as divided up into “good” countries (like the United States, Taiwan and Israel) and “bad ones” including China and much of the Muslim world. We take tough stands about Tiananmen Square and Tibet, but don't bat an eyelash at Guantanamo Bay or Gaza.

If we had a consistent, moral foreign policy based on “Canadian principles,” the tough stand vis-à-vis Beijing would make sense. But we don't, and it doesn't.

The fact is that only the pro-Israel lobby spends more time and money on lobbying Canadian parliamentarians than pro-Taiwan groups. (Taiwan was the top destination for freebie trips by MPs in 2007, and second to Israel last year), and so here we are.

And Canada's relationship with the world's next superpower is in tatters.

The truth is that we're in serious danger becoming a “bad” country in China's eyes as well.

Our Prime Minister boycotted their coming-out party last summer, when even George W. Bush and Nicholas Sarkozy found ways to attend either the opening or closing ceremonies of the Olympics. We grant refuge to their most wanted man (albeit because the aforementioned Mr. Zhu repeatedly declared that Mr. Lai deserved to be executed, which is pretty much a death sentence in a country where courts usually do as their told). And we harangue them about domestic issues from across the ocean, rather than in quiet face-to-face talks where Mr. Harper speaking his mind might actually have some impact.

The good news is that there are some inside the Canadian government that get it. We're in the process of opening six new trade missions in China, which should finally give us a diplomatic and commercial presence here worthy of the world's third-biggest – and fastest-growing – economy. And, for better or for worse, Trade Minister Stockwell Day is planning a visit here next month.

That's all well and good. But the word I'm getting from various sources is that the “face”-conscious Chinese leadership is going to hold a grudge until Mr. Harper repents and makes a full-on official visit to Beijing. Mr. Harper has suggested that such a trip is on the horizon. I hate to agree with the Toronto Star, but for the sake of Canada's interests, and reputation, in China, the sooner he gets here, the better.


Stockwell Dai goes to China
Glabe and Mail
May 15, 2009
Mark MacKinnon

Beijing -- Trade Minister Stockwell Day, one of the most outspoken China critics in the Conservative government, is landing in China today at the start of an eight-day trip that both countries hope will be help defrost relations between Beijing and Ottawa.

So how are ordinary Chinese responding to this visit by the former leader of the Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance, the devout Evangelical Christian who has long been a critic of Beijing and its restrictions on "freedom of speech, religion and freedom of enterprise" as he put it back in 2000?

Here's a quick sampling of the anonymous talk-backs on the Chinese Internet, as compiled by Yu Mei, the superb news assistant here in the Beijing bureau of The Globe and Mail:

(The first batch are taken from
the comments section on The Global Times article headlined "High-ranking Canadian official said Harper hopes to visit China soon in order to repair the relation with China.")

* Canada's Prime Minister is a speculator. When he needs China, he comes. When he doesn't need China, he speaks irresponsible words. I don't want to see his coming visit China.

* (How about) you don't come, but it will be fine to have Lai Changxing come back. (Mr. Lai is China's most wanted man, accused by Beijing of heading a $10-billion smuggling empire before fleeing to Canada in 1999)

* China is also suffering in the economic crisis. You can't just remember China when Nortel collapses.

* (Day) is definitely coming to China for mendicant purposes. He needs China's money and turns friendly to China. When the crisis passes, he will jump out to make troubles for China.

* Canadians are very unsatisfied . . . yeah, very unsatisfied, but Harper is still working for another term.

* The (Beijing) Olympics are over. There is no reason for you to visit China! The financial crisis makes you remember China? There is no way to fool China.

* Sarkozy the Second, haha! (A reference to the French President's own
stormy relationship with Beijing)

* The most positive impression of Canada to us now is "Da Shan"! Except him, it seems we know nothing. It means you are not important to us! (
Da Shan is Mark Rowswell, an Ottawa-born entertainer who is a phenomenon in China.)

* I feel the Western countries recently are (acting) weird! In the past, they always said something negative of China, but recently they seemed turn to very friendly to us. Every Western country comes to show friendship to China. Maybe they all come for China's money? Are they taking China as a "savior of market?" They will be happy to empty China's pockets.

Here are a few more the popular web portal:

* We are also very busy and not convenient to welcome you (written by a "netizen" in Changchun, Jilin province)

* If he comes, let's see which brave man toss him a shabby shoe? (from Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province)

* Cooperation and communication between two countries is better separated from their leaders. We can't have bias against a country only because of a problem with its leader. Since Canada decided to improve the relation with China, why can't we receive this country with a tolerant heart? (A commentator who gave their name as "Aorui3")

* For a long time, Chinese people have a deep feeling to Canadians. (Norman) Bethune, the great internationalist fighter had paid a lot of contribution to the friendship of China and Canada. In the beginning of China's reform and opening up, Canadian government had also given China a lot of support. It is just recently Canadian government changed their policy to China, which made obstacles for the two countries' communication. We both should have cherished our friendships and reach a win-win result. (netizen in Haikou, Hainan province)

My favourite part is that someone bothered to give Stockwell Day a Chinese name, likely without consulting our intrepid Trade Minister. When you see him next on the streets of Ottawa, Red Deer or Okanagan, feel free to address him as "Dai Guowei," as he's known on the Chinese Internet.

What does it mean?

Well, "Dai" is a common Chinese surname, chosen likely because it sounds like "Day."

Meanwhile, Guo means "country" while "wei," in this case, means to protect or to guard against something.

To the English-speaking ear, they also sound a lot like Day Go Away. Not that we should read anything into that. Right?

The Chinese people clearly do not like Stockwell Day or Stephen Harper. Very good judges of character those Chinese people. We don't much like the pair either.

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