Finding balance on China

If China’s blocking of Canadian canola is intended to make Canadian leaders more submissive to its demands, opposition leader Andrew Scheer’s foreign policy suggests the opposite has occurred.

Despite enjoying the support of a high proportion of western canola growers, Conservative party leader Scheer has sounded a hawkish rather than conciliatory note when talking about China.

“We should engage in a way that recognizes how our values and our interests are in many respects incompatible with those of the Chinese government,” said Scheer in a May 7 speech.

“For decades now, many in Canada have looked to China as a way of diversifying our export markets, but in recent years it has become clear that China’s adversarial approach to Canada and the western democratic world has changed those expectations…. For many years we looked the other way, as the allure of China’s market was too powerful to ignore. However, so long as China is willing to hold our exports hostage, all while committing human rights violations, we have no choice as Canadians but to consider other trading partners.”

Farmers are anxious about the situation with China today, but there is no consensus among farmers about how the government should deal with the situation.

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The Liberal government under Justin Trudeau has avoided intemperate language and has not launched trade retaliations.

Most farmers appear to agree with taking the issue to the World Trade Organization, but beyond that, whether to lay low to avoid offending the Chinese, hitting back, or finding other means of re-opening the Chinese market is a vexing question.

“To try to draw some sort of solution to this is tough,” said Bill Campbell, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers.

“Somewhere along the line you have to stand up for yourself and deal with your principles and stand by them. Hopefully, you gain respect for the position you took.”

Scheer’s speech and the trouble the Liberal government has had in handling Chinese demands while upholding Canadian democratic values lays bare the difficult balancing act that Canadian governments and leaders have had to tread.

Trudeau incurred the displeasure of the Chinese government near the beginning of his term when he referred to human rights in the context of expanding trade.

Before Trudeau, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper faced similar challenges during his tenure.

“I think Canadians want us to promote our trade relations worldwide. We do that, but I don’t think Canadians want us to sell out our values, our beliefs in democracy, freedom and human rights,” said Harper in 2006.

“They don’t want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar.”

Canada-China expert Charles Burton of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute said Conservative concerns extend beyond China’s authoritarian nature, with the country also undermining the international trading system upon which Canada depends.

“Today China’s global rise is seen as posing a significant threat to the rules-based international order through China’s flaunting of its commitments to the WTO in trade and (Chinese leader) Xi Jinping’s stated desire to displace the United States as the global superpower,” said Burton.

Ted Menzies, a long-time Conservative MP, cabinet minister and former farm group leader, said Canada needs to be both diplomatic with China and speak up for its interests.

“You don’t have to compromise (support for democratic values),” he said. “We don’t have to compromise our principles by not saying anything, but say it diplomatically.”

Bernie McClean, president of the Canadian Canola Growers Association, said farmers feel caught in the middle of the dispute between China and Canada and between China and the United States.

“Farmers see no easy solutions about how to deal with China, but they rely upon federal governments of all stripes to work on regaining access to China while diversifying Canada’s markets away from its overreliance on China,” he said.

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