Canada and the China-US G2: ‘an opportunity if we choose to’.

From ‘Will Canada Play the Energy Card in a US-China World’ by Campbell Clark in the Globe and Mail, January 19, 2011

…The U.S. concern for energy security, though it clashes with environmental opposition in Congress and parts of the Obama administration, makes Canadian energy a strategic interest – a way to ensure supply for the country, including its defence establishment, in any crisis.

The fact that Canada is a rare friendly, reliable and nearby supplier of energy is “our trump card,” says Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat in Washington and Hong Kong.

Energy security, and the possible shipment of Alberta oil to China, are arguments Canadians are already using to overcome environmental objections to the TransCanada Pipelines XL pipeline, which would extend an Alberta oil sands link to Texas.

Proponents of West Coast pipeline argue it would diversify markets, allow a better price for oil exports, and encourage China to improve trade arrangements with Canada, such as investment protections or a broader trade deal. Mr. Robertson argues it would also provide leverage with the United States, attracting attention to encourage the approval of pipelines, improving electricity-grid links, even speeding the flow of goods at the border.

Pipeline projects take years of regulatory and government decisions, but if the Canadian government announced it was making a West Coast pipeline a priority, it would send both an encouraging signal to China and make the United States take notice, he argues.

Some doubt that would work, unless Canada was willing to play rough and offer the United States a quid pro quo – perhaps delaying a West Coast pipeline, or discouraging fast growth in Chinese energy investment. But the real benefit of a West Coast pipeline is still diversifying markets to China, and solidifying ties with a rising power, one Conservative politician argued.

That would require controversial domestic decisions. The Northern Gateway faces stiff opposition from environmentalists and first nations. Some who favour a pipeline worry it’s the wrong project because of those hurdles.

Aside from narrow economic interests, some argue that energy and pipelines are a way for Canada to expand its small role, a little, in the big game of shaping the two-superpower world.

The big question behind the Obama-Hu summit is whether superpower China joins a club of nations that deals with security outliers such as Iran and North Korea, and co-operates to create a more stable international economy. Mr. Robertson says Canada has historic, trade and people ties with both the United States and China, and real interests such as energy that concern them, that it can use to influence the new order.

“We really have an opportunity to play, if we choose to.”

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On Diplomatic Gift Giving

From ‘Federal Government Doubles Gift-Budget for Foreign Dignitaries’ by Rebecca Lindell Postmedia News in the Vancouver Sun January 19, 2011

OTTAWA — The federal government more than doubled its spending on gifts for diplomats since 2005, with the total price tag for diplomatic baubles coming in at just over $132,000 in the last fiscal year.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade distributed 2,608 gifts worth $132,610 to foreign dignitaries in 2009-2010 on behalf of the prime minister and other ministers, figures released Wednesday by DFAIT show.

Colin Roberston, a career diplomat and a senior fellow at the Carleton’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, says that while gift-giving may be traditional, it’s still important. “It’s not that the gift is going to open the door, but the absence of a gift can be viewed as a departure from protocol and perhaps a show of bad faith,” he said.

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Bob Rae meets with UAE Leaders over Air dispute

From ‘Bob Rae meets with UAE Leaders, fields air landing complaints‘ by Bill Curry in Globe and Mail, January 10, 2011

Liberal MP Bob Rae is meeting with senior leaders in the United Arab Emirates this week, where he says he’s getting an earful over Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s increasingly heated rhetoric in the dispute over air landing rights.But back home, the Prime Minister’s Office is questioning Mr. Rae’s trip and urging him to side with the Canadian government’s position in his meetings…It is unusual for Canada to be involved in an escalating tiff like this with a once-friendly foreign nation. It’s also rare for the opposition to step in so directly.“Is this unorthodox? Yes. Is it unprecedented? No,” said Colin Robertson, a former senior Canadian diplomat. “It does take place from time to time and it can be helpful.”

However, Mr. Harper’s spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, questioned Mr. Rae’s trip in an e-mail to the Globe.“Canadians expect that when Canadian MPs travel abroad that they represent Canada and Canadian interests. It would be extremely regrettable if Canadian interests were undermined in any way,” he wrote. “What the UAE was asking [for] was not in the best interest of Canadians. We trust Mr. Rae will recognize that during his fact finding visit and we urge him to convey that information to the UAE royals.”Mr. Robertson said the PMO’s comments likely serve a notice to the UAE that Mr. Rae is “freelancing” and does not speak for Canada.

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