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Why Mr. Harper needs to go to Washington (oops) Beijing

July 27, 2008

Miro Cernetig,
The Vancouver Sun
July 26, 2008

If Stephen Harper goes to Beijing for the Olympics -- a foreign
policy no-brainer our prime minister is inexplicably resisting -- he
has a real chance to immediately melt the chill between Canada and China.

But there's a chance at something else for the PM, too -- a private
conversation with Hu Jintao, China's president.

Right now Canada's prime minister probably couldn't get dim sum in
Beijing. That's what happens when you choose to take a moralistic
view of China, hectoring its leadership on Tibet, human rights and
industrial spying.

Harper may be right on all those counts. But China is too
economically powerful and too proud to listen to such lectures from a
middle power. Its leadership will tune you out -- as it has Ottawa --
if that's all you have to say.

China's leaders respect toughness but they also expect sophistication
in foreign policy. Here's a better way of talking to China's leader,
should Harper go to Beijing:

Harper: President Hu, we've had a rocky start. But I'm here to see
the Olympics and recognize China's rise on the international stage.
We don't like your approaches to democracy and human rights, we want
to see you improve.

Hu: Excuse me, there you go again, prime minister. China will not
take lectures from you on human rights. It is our internal affair.
And what about you aboriginal populations -- don't they suffer the
highest poverty and suicide rates in your country?

Harper: Okay, let's agree we both need to do much better. But I'm
here to broaden our dialogue. The last time you were in Canada you
said Canada would become a strategic partner in China's future
economic planning. We want to engage on that.

Hu: Well, good. China and Canada are long-time friends, you sent us
wheat when the U.S. boycotted us. You sent us your saintly doctor
Norman Bethune.

Harper: Yes, yes, I know all that. But what does China want from
Canada today and in the future?

Hu: Easy. Access to your energy. Your oilsands. Your coal, copper,
sulfur and forests. But we have found resistance within you country.
There's an anti-China feeling in Canada, a sense that you don't want
to let us buy up these things.

Harper: Well, that's not true. We won't sell off industries that will
impinge upon our national security interests. That's not anti-China.
Ask the Americans. We didn't let them buy MacDonald Dettwiler, one of
our top space-technology companies, because it wasn't in Canada's
national interest. But we want to do business with China, but we
expect things, too.

Hu: Such as?

Harper: We want you to stop seeing Canada as merely a resource and
energy provider and market for your manufactured goods. We want you
to trade with the new Canada: our high-tech industries. For example,
you are building nuclear power reactors. We want you to buy some of
our new Candu reactors, to help our trade deficit with you.

Hu: But if we do, what do we get in return?

Harper: Well, we could open up or university and technical schools to
more Chinese students. We will deepen the trade in "human capital,"
it's the future of both countries.

Hu: Not enough.

Harper: OK. As prime minister, I will also signal Canada is not
afraid of China's investment in most areas. We will welcome the
presence of your sovereign funds to help us build the oilsands, new
mines and high-tech sectors. We would like to see you invest in our
ports, which are closer to you and have quick and reliable access to
the U.S. market. We can grow together.

Hu: Ah, Mr. Harper. Now you are thinking Chinese.

Undoubtedly this approach will meet with resistance inside some
Conservative circles and among human rights advocates. Canada's
traditional marketplace, for trade and its commitment to democratic
ideals, remains the United States. China is much further down the
list in both those areas.

But there's also a new reality: In the long term China will matter
nearly as much to Canada as the U.S.

Just read the book that foreign leaders are now reading, The
Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria.

Its key idea is not that the U.S. is in danger of losing its status
as the world's No. 1 economic power. Rather it is that we've entered
a new era when the others -- namely India and China -- are rising fast.

The time of America's easy global dominance is, to some extent,
waning. Canada must be a better global trader.

"China will not replace the United States as the world's superpower.
It is unlikely to surpass it on any dimension -- military, political,
or economic -- for decades, let alone have dominance in all areas,"
Zakaria writes.

"But on issue after issue, it has become the second-most-important
country in the world, adding a wholly new element to the international system."

The message for our 21st-century prime minister is crystal clear. Not
investing the political capital to nurture a relationship with China,
whatever your disagreements with its leadership, is a major
geopolitical and economic error for Canada.

It's time for Mr. Harper to go to Beijing -- for more than just dim sum.
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