China Strategy Project
In its national history, Canada has never had to contend with a powerful China: The Opium Wars, which inaugurated China’s “century of humiliation”, began nearly three decades prior to Confederation in 1839. When paired with other global trends, the rise of China therefore presents a novel context that will affect Canada’s national interests and the wider international order in complex ways.
As relations between Ottawa and Beijing have deteriorated over recent years, Canada’s two major political parties have taken diametrically opposite approaches. The Liberal Party, while accepting the reality that an ambitious agenda for bilateral cooperation is no longer possible, has attempted to tread a difficult tight rope and not offend Beijing. By contrast, the Conservatives have adopted a much more critical line.
Major differences in foreign policy visions and priorities between Canada’s two leading parties, which are not limited to the issue of China, can lead to policy incoherence and inconsistency whenever there is a change of government. This, in turn, damages the country’s ability to secure its national interests consistently in a changing world.
While cross-partisan disagreement on China is likely to persist, this project aims to identify and explore targeted areas of potential consensus that can underpin a unified national strategy for dealing with China – one that is neither naïve nor overly alarmist. The trade-centric status quo in Canada-China relations, centred on “engagement for engagement’s sake” and insufficiently conscious of strategic considerations, appears to have run its course. However, a full swing of the pendulum into a cold war-type relationship may not be in Canada’s interests either.
The project will consist of a series of publications and roundtable discussions by top Canadian thinkers and China experts probing five key questions concerning Canada’s relationship with China:
- What place does China occupy in Canada’s vision of a rules-based international order?
- What do worsening relations between China and the West imply for Canada’s strategy to tackle climate change?
- What restrictions and reductions in Canada-China trade should the Canadian government and business community be prepared to tolerate?
- What should the current downturn in Canada-China relations and mounting security concerns imply for Canadian universities?
- What do deteriorating relations with Beijing imply for the future of multiculturalism in Canada?
From This Project
View the full volume of IPD’s China Strategy Project that consisted of a series of publications and roundtable discussions by top Canadian thinkers.
The current chill of Canada’s political and diplomatic relations with China should not be a barrier for the two countries to work together in pursuing energy efficiency, climate change collaboration and especially finding innovative ways of replacing China’s coal use by other less harmful means to the environment and reducing CO2 emissions on a large scale.
For at least forty years, universities have been a major dimension of Canadian connections with China. Recruitment of Chinese students, study abroad programs for Canadians, research partnerships and collaborative programs involve virtually every Canadian university and college with hundreds of Chinese partners.
Despite state multiculturalism, foreign policy making can function as an institutional conduit for reproducing systemic racism, which not only exacerbates social divisions but also prevents a form of intercultural understanding in which individuals truly see one another.
In spite of recent tensions in the Canada-China relationship, Ottawa would be wise to adopt a posture rooted in caution and restraint, cooperating with Washington on the security implications of China’s rise where necessary while keeping the door open to engagement with Beijing where possible.
One must have an informed picture of China’s global economic outreach and the current state of Canada-China economic linkages. Upon closer examination, pursuing a strategy centred on decoupling appears fanciful at best and counterproductive at worst.
For the China’s political elites, being heard and listened to constitutes a major aspect of China’s ascent to great power status. Meanwhile, the concept of democracy will remain contested although a plurality does not signify failure, but rather fulfils the quest for alternative understandings.
A strategy that begins with acceptance, as opposed to recognition, of U.S. perspectives is a strategy that a priori cedes Canadian economic interests. A strategy that starts with a strong definition and advancement of Canadian interests and that forces the Americans to react, if they notice at all, is critical given the imbalance in the Canada-U.S. relationship.
The Institute for Peace and Diplomacy hosted a panel discussion titled “Canada-China Relations in a Changing Environment: Climate, Energy and the Arctic” on February 2, 2022. It was the final panel in IPD’s China Strategy Project.
By all means, let us compete with China, and confront it where necessary. But let us be clear-eyed about our purpose: it is not to ‘defeat’ China but to advance the cause of the planet and humanity. Going to war with China will solve none of our problems. Today’s PLA is not that of the Korean War. It can credibly challenge the US and there is no reassurance that a war with China will be limited in time or space. At the same time, no solution to the global challenge of climate change is possible without Chinese cooperation. Lose China, lose the planet.
Canada is a participant in a rapidly evolving international economic order in which China’s economy is poised to overtake the US by the end of this decade. At the same time, America is turning inward towards self-sufficiency in order to reduce dependencies, shorten supply chains and shift its economic focus away from globalised interdependence towards domestic consumption and manufacturing. De-globalization carries significant risks for the USA and Canada.