Stand united on China, but at what cost?

Would Canadian farmers be willing to give up exports, and the dollars that come with them, in order to stand united with the rest of the world’s democracies? | Reuters photo

What the heck are we going to do about China?

The country has become increasingly threatening in recent years, especially since Xi Jinping became leader in 2012.

But China is not the Soviet Union during the last Cold War. The Soviets may have been a military superpower but they certainly weren’t an economic powerhouse.

China’s significant role in the world economy means it simply can’t be contained the way the West managed to do with the Soviet Union.

But what then? Are we to sit by, selling China our raw goods and buying its manufactured goods, while the oppression continues?

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, outlined an interesting proposal in a recent op ed in the Globe and Mail.

In it, he raised the thorny problem of what to do with the winter Olympics, which are scheduled to be held in Beijing early next year. Instead of a boycott, Saint-Jacques suggests giving China an ultimatum on human rights abuses, and if it refuses, then the United States and Canada should offer to host the Olympic games instead with existing infrastructure.

As intriguing as that suggestion sounds, Saint-Jacques also raised an idea that would directly affect Canadian farmers.

He’s proposing that the world’s democracies refuse to increase their exports of a particular commodity to China above historical levels if China restricts imports of that commodity from one of the other countries for political reasons.

That would mean other canola exporters would agree not to rush in to fill the gap left by China’s restrictions on Canadian imports.

However, it would also apply to barley, which China stopped buying from Australia when that country had the nerve to suggest an international probe into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As it happens, Canada’s barley exports started rising around the same time, from 1.7 million tonnes in 2018 to 2.1 million tonnes last year. This year Canada has sold 1.9 million tonnes just in the first six months, so business is booming.

That might not just be because of Australia’s woes. China is rebuilding its hog herd after African swine fever and needs a lot of pig food.

But whatever the case, would Canadian farmers be willing to give up exports, and the dollars that come with them, in order to stand united with the rest of the world’s democracies?

It’s an intriguing idea, but one likely doomed to fail.

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