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Sick of talking about China?

Me too, but we're going to keep doing it

Put your hand up if you’re sick of talking about China all the time.

Yup, as I suspected, there are lots of hands up out there in Readerland.

How about this: If you’re sick of talking about China and you know it, clap your hands!

Knew it. Lots of clapping out there.

Heck, I’m sick of talking about China and I’m a professional chatterer.

Yesterday I wrote a 2,000 word piece on China’s future demands for agricultural products. (You’ll see that after it’s printed next week.) On Tuesday I interviewed a fellow journalist, Allan Dawson, about his extensive work on the complications of Canada’s fraught relations with the giant nation, for the Between the Rows podcast. An hour ago I was talking with the spokesman for a hog slaughter and processing company about China. Tomorrow I wasn’t planning to talk to people or write about China, but I probably will anyway.

These days it’s all-China-all-the-time, with no end in sight.

That’s how it seemed a couple of hours ago when Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s federal Agriculture Minister, was facing the Standing Committee on Agriculture in Ottawa and was hit with questions about China from right, left and centre. It was mostly about the two-month standoff over China’s escalating ban on Canadian canola, but pork got in there too.

It was a pleasing piece of political pantomime, as Bibeau stuck to the government line of trying to act like the dispute with China isn’t really about that country acting like a belligerent bully, and opposition politicians acting as if Bibeau could clear everything up by jumping on a plane and having a sincere chat with some important people in China, or by seriously expressing Canada’s displeasure with what China’s doing.

There’s very little chance of this diplomatic spat getting cleared up in the next six months, so farmers will stay caught in the middle, and politicians being politicians, they’ll continue to politicize it. There is, after all, an election in October, so everybody’s going to be positioning themselves as Canada’s and Farmers’ Only Hope for clearing up the China crisis.

We were fortunate with the NAFTA renegotiations that the stakes were so extreme for everybody that the issue actually became non-partisan. With China’s targeting of Western agricultural products like canola, the costs to the Average Urban Joe are much less, especially outside the West. That’s what might be behind China finding problems with the labels on Canadian pork from two Quebec-based companies. Only two plants are affected, including the Red Deer, Alberta hog slaughter plant, but both are owned by Quebec-based companies, so this might be an attempt of the Chinese to cause pain in Bibeau’s home province, which might then be redirected at Bibeau.

But outside agriculture, most Canadian exports to China are far less important. China, in fact, exports far more to Canada overall than Canada exports to China. At a certain point it might make sense to find some labeling problems with Chinese goods arriving in Vancouver . . .

It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out in the federal election campaign. Will one party champion a “Get tough with China” approach and commit to retaliation? Will one take the Quisling approach of saying they would do whatever China wants in order to resolve the situation? Will the Liberals admit this has nothing to do with canola and everything to do with something that no Canadian government has much control over?

We might all be sick of talking about China, but China-talk is unlikely to go away any time soon.

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