The Canada-China reboot post Meng Wanzhou/Two Michaels
Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech this past week to mark the 50th Anniversary of China joining the United Nations. It was an important event against the backdrop of the current ideological conflict between the United States and its allies, and China.
Xi cited China’s achievements over the past five decades including “a historic breakthrough of leaping from a country with relatively low productivity to the second largest economy in the world.” He said the Chinese people have built a “moderately prosperous society on the vast land of China, and won the battle against poverty, thus securing a historic success in eradicating absolute poverty”. He said China would continue to focus on productivity and raising living standards and said that “China’s future goals are to build a modern socialist country and the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
”Xi said that since China joined the United Nations the world has witnessed China's peaceful development and its commitment and dedication to the welfare of all humanity, that the “Chinese people are peace-loving people and know well the value of peace and stability,” and that “we have unswervingly followed an independent foreign policy of peace, stood firm for fairness and justice, and resolutely opposed hegemony and power politics.” These remarks come at a crucial moment when Chinese and Western tensions, especially those with the United States and Australia are high.
For the past several years there have been increased tensions in the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and US military forces and China. The U.S. has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan but sells arms to it as part of its Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the U.S. must provide the island with the means to defend itself. However, the United States has formal ties with China and acknowledges China's position that there is only one Chinese government.
As tensions continued to increase in recent months, China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun accused the U.S. of "taking dangerous actions, leading the situation in the Taiwan Strait into a dangerous direction".
The seriousness of the matter was further underscored last month when General Mark Milley, the chair of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had two phone calls with Chinese General Li Zuocheng — one on October 30, 2020 and a second on January 8, 2021, just two days after the January 6, 2021 insurrection in Washington D.C. where a pro-Trump mob stormed the capital in a bid to stop a peaceful transition of power after the American election. Milley said the calls were part of his duties to “de-conflict” military actions, manage crisis and prevent war between great powers armed with nuclear weapons.” He said the calls were intended to reassure the Chinese that the U.S. would not suddenly launch an attack. (Milley first disclosed this information in an interview he did for the book "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa) Milley told the Senate he was fearful that former President Donald Trump could act erratically in his final days in office and that he told Li that he would warn him if the U.S. planned to attack China.
Despite the candid admission before Congress about the friction in the relationship, the Biden administration continues to signal to China that it views the relationship as adversarial at best.On 15 September 2021, a new trilateral security pact AUKUS between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States was announced. Its purpose seems to be to contain Chinese hegemony in the Asia Pacific.
Officials claimed Australia joined AUKUS “to develop its own nuclear submarine capability and it does not, and will not use nuclear weapons.” They also claimed that AUKUS does not undermine the centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and is not a threat to regional peace.
Not surprisingly, the Chinese see things very differently and say that Australia’s move to nuclearize its own fleet is proof of a return to a cold war mentality. Wang Wenbin, the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs described AUKUS “a reflection of the three countries' obsession with force, an extension of the UK's nuclear deterrence policy, and a product of the U.S. philosophy of "position of strength". He added that, “The trilateral security partnership between the U.S., the UK and Australia is a stark reminder that the rules the three countries believe in are still the rules of the jungle where might is right.”
The news of nuclear submarine cooperation between the U.S., the UK and Australia involves transferring weapons-grade uranium to Australia, which China claims violates the object and purpose of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which these countries are signatories.The Chinese also view the U.S. decision to export Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Australia as an aggressive act and a threat to regional peace and security. They claim this trilateral cooperation undermines efforts to build a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) in Southeast Asia.
In his UN speech Xi seemed to take direct aim at what the Chinese see as the western proclivity for cold war politics saying, “In the world today, changes unseen in a century are accelerating, and the force for peace, development and progress has continued to grow. It falls upon us to follow the prevailing trend of history, and choose cooperation over confrontation, openness over seclusion, and mutual benefit over zero-sum games. We shall be firm in opposing all forms of hegemony and power politics, as well as all forms of unilateralism and protectionism.”
Xi called for cooperation between nations saying, “We should vigorously advocate peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom, which are the common values of humanity, and work together to provide the right guiding philosophy for building a better world. Peace and development are our common cause, equity and justice our common aspiration, and democracy and freedom our common pursuit. The world we live in is diverse and colorful. Diversity makes human civilization what it is, and provides a constant source of vitality and driving force for world development.”
He added that the Chinese people are a strong supporter of other developing countries in their struggle to safeguard sovereignty, security and development interests. “The Chinese people are committed to achieving common development. From the Tazara Railway to the Belt and Road Initiative, we have done what we could to help other developing countries, and have offered the world new opportunities through our own development.” Xi noted that ‘during the trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has been active in sharing COVID response experience with the world, and has sent large quantities of supplies, vaccines and medicines to other countries, and deeply engaged in science-based cooperation on COVID-19 origins tracing, all in a sincere and proactive effort to contribute to humanity's final victory over the pandemic.”
Xi said China has stood actively for political settlement of disputes through peaceful means, noting that China has sent over 50,000 peacekeepers to UN peacekeeping operations, and is now the second largest financial contributor to both the United Nations and UN peacekeeping operations. He said China has been among the first of countries to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals and has taken the lead in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, accounting for over 70 per cent of global poverty reduction. “Over the last 50 years, for all the vicissitudes in the international landscape, the world has remained stable as a whole, thanks to the concerted efforts of people of all countries. The world economy has grown rapidly, and innovation in science and technology has kept breaking new ground. A large number of developing countries have grown stronger, over a billion people have walked out of poverty, and a population of several billion are moving toward modernization”.
Xi also confronted the idea of American exceptionalism head on saying, ‘No civilization in the world is superior to others; every civilization is special and unique to its own region.”
Despite much chirping in the West in the past several months that China’s increased presence in the South China Sea and growing military prowess might lead it to take military action against Taiwan, XI’s speech conveyed the exact opposite message. While he stuck to the official Chinese doctrine of one China (which for the Chinese includes Taiwan) he went to great lengths to convey the message that China is committed to multilateralism and progress. Xi said that, “Civilizations can achieve harmony only through communication, and can make progress only through harmonization”.
There is no doubt that the Chinese see Taiwan as part of China and believe that over time Taiwan will return to the fold and become part of China proper once again. Of course the Taiwanese will have a say in that process too.
The crux of the matter is that we are living in a time when two vastly different global ideological systems are increasingly colliding with each other and the trick will be to figure out who we find the commonalities between the systems rather than focus on the differences. Multilateralism and international bodies are key in this process. However, if the west continues to talk down to China and suggest they have no rule of law or that their system is inferior, problems will continue to emerge.
It would be folly for Canada to buy into the American adversarial premise that frames engagement with China as the 'Free World' versus 'Communist China'. The miscue by many western analysts is to view Chinese communism in the same lens as Soviet communism or in the same vein as Cuban communism which has sucked the spirit and soul out of the Cuban people. Chinese communism is very different. It a Marxist inspired theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It allows for a limited capitalist free enterprise system to operate within its Marxist framework. To approach Chinese relations with the same Cold War tactics and mentality that were applied against the former Soviet Union is a major misstep. For Canada and indeed the West, China should not be positioned as the new enemy or even an adversary. China may be an ideologically different state and a competitor to the West in many areas, but they are not an enemy. The Chinese are world leaders in business, finance, research and development, healthcare and infrastructure and artificial intelligence. Their system is not our system and it does not need to be. Co-operative co-existence of the two systems is the path forward
Another troubling narrative in western thinking on China is the idea that the Chinese people are repressed and do not support their government. This is just not true. The Chinese have a very different model of government and rule of law than the west but the vast majority of China's 1.4 billion people do not feel repressed and support the government. China is China and China has no desire to be the west.
Moving forward, Canadian policy towards China in the post Meng-two Michaels era should be based on constructive and respectful engagement. A starting point for Canadian officials will be to recognize that China is not a threat to Canadian interests or Canadian values. Canada should avoid getting involved in US led initiatives to have Western nations cooperate “to contain China’s growing power.” The idea that Canada would participate in any US led initiative to de-legitimize China or their leaders or frame the Chinese government as oppressive or the Chinese people as oppressed or criticise their social system as being inferior to western systems is highly misguided and is not the basis for a constructive Canadian relationship with China, nor will it do anything to advance Canada’s interests globally. The US views China as an adversary and an existential threat to their hegemony and they have shown that they will put their interests ahead of ours when it comes to their agenda to contain China’s growing influence. The Meng Wanzhou affair clearly showed that the United States is willing to throw Canada under the bus if it helps achieve their objectives. We should not forget that, fool me once, shame on you . . . fool me twice . . . .
Further, China has shown no interest in expanding its governance system beyond its own borders. Simply put, Chinese communism is not a threat to Canada and we should work with China on things that are in our mutual interest.
China, like all countries, has its problems and its critics. Whether its their controversial approach in responding to terrorism in Xinjiang, its management of the two-systems process in Hong Kong, its re-emergence as a military and naval power in the Pacific and the South China sea or its ongoing relations with Taiwan which ebb and flow depending on circumstances. However, the Chinese government continues to work with and support numerous multilateral institutions and Chinese assistance, investment and trade have proven to be an incredible force for good in many developing countries. China is a key player in solving many of the world's biggest problems whether its climate change or health problems or economic development matters. One thing COVID-19 showed the world was the importance of China's heft in vaccine and PPE production and distribution to the developing world.
Before he was so unceremoniously dumped from cabinet this past week, former Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau maintained that Canada’s approach towards China should be "rooted in a balance between four Cs: coexist, compete, cooperate and challenge. After three years of political strain this is a refreshing and positive approach to reset the Canada-China relationship and one that hopefully will be continued by Canada's new Minister, Melanie Joly. So long as China participates in a rules-based international order, Canada has no reason to not cooperate with China.
Watch Cyrus Jassen’s latest video "Everything You Know About Chian is Wrong . . . This is Why"