On Tuesday Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper begins an official visit to Beijing, his first since 2009, where we can expect he will go by the script to show that his government is committed to promoting the so-called “strategic partnership” between the two countries.
In recent years the Conservative government, once seen as unfriendly to Beijing, has made a volte-face on China, which is now Canada’s second most important merchandise trading partner, with bilateral merchandise trade reaching $57 billion in 2010.
Harper’s change of mind was not so much ideological as predicated on very pragmatic matters, such as increasing business ties with the world’s second-largest economy, a move that, we must not forget, was initiated by the Liberals. Consequently, bilateral trade between the two countries more than tripled between 2001 and 2010.
Last year, even before Canadian voters installed the Conservatives as a majority government, the Harper administration was making the case for increased ties with China, brushing aside criticism that such rapprochement would come at the cost of Ottawa’s effectiveness in pressuring China on its abysmal human rights record. While embarking on a “pragmatic” approach to China, which doubtlessly has benefited certain sectors of Canada’s economy, Harper said his government would engage in constructive dialogue, or “quiet diplomacy” to express its concerns regarding Beijing’s treatment of its people.
Such a face-to-face approach among “friends,” Foreign Minister John Baird said last year, was more efficient than “sitting at home and griping,” which was ostensibly a reference to a more vocal approach to Beijing’s human rights violations.
Unfortunately for Harper and Baird, the silent, behind-the-scenes approach doesn’t seem to be bearing fruit.
My op-ed, published today in the Ottawa Citizen, continues here.
UPDATE: The Ottawa Citizen Web site appears to have been the target of an access denial attack, as my article has been down for nearly half a day now. Given past experience, this would not be the first time Chinese ultranationalists target publications in the free world for publishing material that did not agree with Beijing. Will keep readers posted as the Citizen staff investigates.