• By: Dan Donovan

The Case for Improved Canada-China Political Relations

Ottawa Life Magazine has been publishing a Canada-China Cooperation series since 2012. Over the past eleven years, the Canada-China business-to-business and people-to-people relationships have remained strong. Statistics Canada data reports show that Canada imported a record CA $100,027,968,000 billion of goods from China last year — the highest amount ever — up 16 percent from $86 billion in 2021. According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, Canadian exports to China were CA$29.14 billion in 2022.

Canada continues to export diverse agricultural products to China, including canola, soybeans, pork, beef, seafood, grains, and agriculture fertilizers, including nutrients, crop protection products, and seeds. These exports cater to China’s growing demand for quality food products.

The value of Canadian agricultural exports to China has also increased in recent years. As of the most current available data, annual exports have amounted to billions of dollars, reflecting the strong trade relationship between the two countries and Canada’s pivotal role in supplying China’s agricultural needs. On the education front, there are an average of 52,000 Chinese students in Canada annually and approximately 3,500 Canadian students studying in China.

The strain in the bi-lateral relationship is the continuing fallout that began with the controversial arrest of Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the founder of Huawei, in 2018. She was arrested on what many legal and other experts believed was a nebulous extradition warrant at the request of the Trump administration in the United States who pressured Canada to arrest Meng after they alleged she had broken some of their trade rules.

It is worth noting that ten European Union nations refused a similar request from the Trump administration to detain Meng in Europe. Her arrest caused serious tensions between China, Canada, and the U.S. because China saw it as unfair and political and referred to it as a state-sponsored kidnapping. Shortly after her detention, two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor (The “Two Michaels”) — were arrested in China on accusations of spying. They (and the Canadian government) vehemently denied the charges. Meng and the “Two Michaels” were simultaneously released on the same day in September 2021.

The 2023 relationship between Canada and China is marked by both cooperation and contention, with accusations and disagreements often overshadowing areas of increased collaboration. The Official Opposition in Parliament has raised concerns of alleged Chinese interference in the 2021 Canadian federal election claiming cyber-espionage, disinformation campaigns, and attempts to influence Canadian public opinion.

The Canadian Parliament has raised concerns over alleged human rights abuses against the Chinese Uyghur population, which has further strained diplomatic ties and work towards a more constructive political relationship. The Chinese government vehemently denies the allegations of  abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and says its actions in the region are aimed at combating extremism and promoting social stability.

The Case for Improved Relations

Economic Cooperation:
Canada and China are both major players in the global economy. Improved political relations could lead to enhanced trade, investment, and economic cooperation. The two countries could leverage their complementary economies to create mutual benefits and stimulate economic growth.

Climate Change and Environmental Collaboration:
Climate change is a pressing global issue that requires collective action. Canada and China could collaborate on climate mitigation efforts, clean energy technologies, and sustainable development initiatives. By working together, they can contribute significantly to global efforts to combat climate change.

People-to-People Exchange and Cultural Diplomacy:
Enhanced political relations could foster increased cultural exchange, tourism, and educational partnerships between Canada and China. Such interactions can help bridge gaps in understanding and promote cross-cultural appreciation.

Multilateral Diplomacy:
Both Canada and China are active participants in international organizations and forums. A more cooperative relationship could lead to joint efforts in addressing global challenges such as pandemic response, peacekeeping, and poverty reduction.

The Chinese Government’s Key Issues Against Canada

Huawei and Technological Restrictions:
China has raised concerns over Canada’s treatment of Huawei, a leading Chinese telecommunications company. China continues to view these actions as undermining fair competition and technological cooperation.

Tibet and Taiwan:
China considers Tibet and Taiwan as integral parts of its territory and views any support for Tibetan independence or Taiwanese sovereignty as a violation of its core interests. Canada’s interactions with these regions have, at times, drawn criticism from China.

Human Rights Criticisms:
China has expressed its own concerns about Canada’s human rights record, particularly regarding the treatment of Indigenous populations, immigration policies, and discrimination issues. The Chinese government argues that addressing human rights concerns should be a two-way street.

While accusations and differences have strained Canada-China relations, the potential benefits of improved political ties are too significant to ignore. Both nations stand to gain from increased economic cooperation, joint efforts on global challenges, and enhanced people-to-people exchange. Constructive dialogue and mutual understanding are crucial in addressing accusations, finding common ground, and building a foundation for a more collaborative government-to-government relationship between Canada and China.

However, given the narrative of the Trudeau government towards China, it is unlikely the political relationship between the two countries will improve anytime soon. Despite this, business-to-business and trade growth continues to soar. People-to-people relations also remain strong, and cultural and arts bonds remain solid.

Over the next eight months, Ottawa Life Magazine will  further examine the current Canada-China relationship through  a series of op-eds, interviews and features from subject matter experts.

This article is part of OLM’s continuing Canada-China Co-operation series, which began in 2012