Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Beijing gains leverage on Canada

If we ever needed an example of the kind of influence Beijing has on the behavior of democratic governments, it was provided last week during Canadian Trade Minister David Emerson’s visit to China. All that trade talk — unaccompanied, of course, by any reference whatsoever to human rights or the environment — culminated when Emerson hinted at the possibility that Ottawa would go to the World Trade Organization to “force” China to allow its citizens to visit Canada as tourists.

“Hinted,” because the last thing Canada wants to do is go to the WTO court against China at a time when bilateral trade between the two countries is at its highest and when China is now tied at No. 3 with Japan as Canada’s largest export market. In making the reference to the WTO while in Beijing, Emerson was telling Beijing Canada took the tourism issue seriously and was hoping for results. But not at the WTO, please.

In other words, Canada went to China as a beggar, kneeling at the throne and willing to sacrifice something in return for a favor by Beijing. When a country threatens to do something but, in the same breath, says it would rather not do it, what it means is that leverage is possible, a weakness can be exploited — and Beijing is a past master at seizing upon such openings in one's armor.

In an article published today in the Taipei Times I explore some of the “sacrifices” Canada may be willing to make so that Beijing will reengage it on the tourism issue. I also warn against the great danger of Beijing coupling trade issues with politics in such a way that democracies risk undermining their principles in the process.

Readers can access the full article, titled “Finding Canada’s Achilles’ heel,” by clicking here

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