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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Scoring in China - without prostituting ourselves

December 7, 2009

By John Ibbitson

 From Saturday's Globe and Mail
December 4, 2009

Despite his public mauling by the Chinese Premier, Stephen Harper's trip
is a substantive success

Stephen Harper has an unfailing ability to take a weak speech and make
it even flatter through delivery, and his address to Chinese and
Canadian business leaders Friday evening was no exception. But that's
not the point.

The point is that, despite his mauling by Premier Wen Jiabao over the
Conservative government's tardy and reluctant recognition of the
importance of the China-Canada relationship, the Prime Minister's trip
is substantively a success.

The Chinese granted Canada permission to market group tours of Chinese
citizens to Canada - a privilege that other nations have long enjoyed,
but that our country has been unsuccessfully seeking for a decade. Final
agreement came late and was uncertain until the end, according to
sources. Clearly, the Chinese knew that the Canadians needed
deliverables, and were prepared to grant this one, though not without a
good spanking first.

There were a few other accords as well, none of them earth-moving. In
sum they appear to reflect a Chinese government willing to re-engage
with Canada despite our years of self-imposed exile.

And the past few days demonstrate emphatically that Mr. Harper fully
recognizes the vital importance to Canada's economic and geopolitical
future of fully engaging with China, at every level, all the time.

"As economic power and human prosperity spreads from West to East,
Canada's trade orientation is shifting also," Mr. Harper said in his
speech. "It is clear that in the 21st century, trans-Pacific trade will
increasingly fuel our economic growth."

So it will. But it is easier and more morally satisfying to trade with
like-minded democracies such as the United States and Europe. China is
not a democracy. It imprisons people for what they say; its judiciary is
not to be trusted; it is corrupt.

The challenge for Canadians is to engage with China while not
prostituting ourselves. Mr. Harper thought he could chastise the Chinese
on human rights while simultaneously fostering trade. But the Chinese
government had no intention of playing that game, which is why the
diplomatic equivalent of corporal punishment was the price of
readmission to the regime's good graces.

How to balance trade and human rights on the China file has baffled
every Canadian government. Most just caved, shoving the issue aside. Mr.
Harper believes he can promote both.

"Our government believes, and has always believed, that a mutually
beneficial economic relationship is not incompatible with a good and
frank dialogue on fundamental values like freedom, human rights and the
rule of law," Mr. Harper said in his speech.

"...We will continue to raise issues of freedom and human rights, be a
vocal advocate and an effective partner for human-rights reform, just as
we pursue the mutually beneficial economic relationship desired by both
our countries."

Properly handled, this is the approach that all the Western democracies
should be taking. The equilibrium of this century depends on helping
China manage its growth, as laissez faire capitalism pits staggering
urban wealth against grinding rural poverty; as the Middle Kingdom takes
its place at the forefront of nations without, as yet, the mechanisms to
ensure peace and justice within its borders and without.

Thus far, Mr. Harper has stumbled repeatedly as he seeks his own
equilibrium in dealing with the China Question. But he is an intelligent
and pragmatic man. He is able to learn.

How well he learns could help determine our prosperity and, in Canada's
own quiet way, contribute to peace in the coming time.
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