Chinese Foreign Minister’s recent angry rebuttal at a Canadian reporter over a question about the country’s human rights record have triggered nationwide debate in Canada. Hardliners are quick to take the chance and emphasize that Canada ought to “regain its self-respect” issues involving China. Others point out the necessity of establishing a long-term national China strategy, urging Canada to better engage itself in a rapidly shifting world to remain an active major global player.
In terms of specific actions, a recent op-ed asks Canada to “bring its A-game” when negotiating, for instance, a trade deal, with China. It suggests that Ottawa should commit to closing its knowledge gap on China by forming a brightest team across government, sending the team to spend 12 to 18 months on ground in China to “learn the Chinese economy and society in depth.”
To be fair, it points out the lack of understanding of the Chinese mentality on Canada’s side. However, the article, just like many others during this debate, has chosen to rely on some abstract, yet-to-happen, beyond-the-border solutions while turning a blind eye to the vast human and cultural capital Canada has at home. While it is absolutely necessary to equip Canadian policy-makers with China knowledge and look outwards, there is no need to start from scratch. It’d be much more cost-efficient to look inwards and here is how.
First of all, mobilize the Chinese community and engage the alumni of Canadian educational institutions within Canada.
Canada has a large Chinese community that is young, diligent, and well-educated. Long-term immigration-wise, the Chinese community makes up the largest non-European ethnic origin in Canada and represents more than 4 per cent of the total Canadian population. Over one in four Canadians of Chinese origin has a university degree. Short-term immigration-wise, Canada has over 110,000 Chinese students studying here in 2014 alone. These are some of the best, brightest, most bilingual or trilingual minds that have first-hand experience of how Chinese systems work and who also understand the importance of a good Canada-China relations. Some of them will eventually go back to China and end up in politics or business practices. Many of them have expressed interest in working in Canada and making the best use of their China and Canada knowledge. Canada, too, should make the best use of such human capital and the China knowledge it has at home. Tracking and cultivating relationships with these communities will build and sustain long-lasting, trustworthy connections even as lives take them elsewhere.
Second of all, solicit, not alienate, Chinese experts’ views in Canada’s policy-making process. Drop the stereotypical, if not racist, views that because someone is ethnically Chinese or foreign-born, he/she could be under the influence and manipulation of the PRC and the CCP, and that once he/she enters politics, Canadians should watch out for his/her spying.
It seems to have become a norm that whenever Canadian officials of Chinese origin display a closer tie to Chinese organizations or favor closer economic relations with China, they are placed under spotlight and suspected of sabotaging Canada’s interests. Yuen Pau Woo, the former president of the non-profit think tank Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, said in one interview in the wake of espionage allegations against Ontario cabinet minister Michal Chan that “I am terrified somebody will interpret (a handshake) as an act of disloyalty or one handshake with the consul general too many.”
Let’s set aside the fact that many Canadian politicians who favor relations with China and are less hardline with China’s human rights issues are not of Chinese origin. There is a fundamental fault and self-contradiction in this line of logics. Just because one is of non-white origin or is foreign-born does not make them less Canadian or less loyal to Canada. In the case of the Chinese, for one thing, according to the Ethnic Diversity Survey, a large majority of Canadians of Chinese origin feel a strong sense of belonging to Canada. For another thing, loyalty is not mutually exclusive in the modern globalization era. As one online post poignantly remarks, “Loyalty is earned, not imposed. Chinese Canadians proudly cheer for Canadians at the Olympics, but many also cheer for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore teams.” It is estimated that in 2017, more than one Canadian in five might be foreign-born and approximately 20% of the Canadians population might belong to a visible minority group. If anything, this group should be an asset, not a threat, to Canadian policy-makers exactly because of their origin(s) and/or ties with friends and families in their countries of origin.
Third of all, as a follow up to the second point, Canada should increase the ethnic diversity, especially the representation of East Asians/Chinese, in the government.
The Liberal government and the Trudeau Cabinet have diversified their appointments, but not every ethnic group gets the same treatment. Statistics reveal that while East Asians and South Asians are the two most prominent ethnic minority groups, with each accounting for approximately 20% of the overall minority population, South Asians count for nearly half of the minority population of Liberal MPs and East Asians are surpassed by almost all other ethnic groups in the Liberal caucus. Within Parliament, whereas South Asians account for more than half of the minority positions, East Asians—the largest minority group—are completely absent from Cabinet.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result.” What Chinese General Sun Tzu stated is absolutely true. Whether Canada sees China as enemy, partner, or friend, it’s much more cost-efficient to gain that knowledge of China from within Canada first.