China Kovrig and Spavor

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Surviving a diplomatic brawl with China takes patience, discretion: Japanese ambassador

‘Canada is not the only country whose nationals are detained in China’ – Kimihiro Ishikane


The arrest and detention of two Canadians by China late last year was an event that looked eerily familiar to Japan. It is, for the government in Tokyo, part of a pattern they have had to contend with over the last few years.

China’s detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — allegedly in retaliation over Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou for extradition to the U.S. on fraud charges — shocked the general public in this country and left federal policymakers reeling.

For Japan, however, such conflicts are just a basic feature of its relationship with an enormous and powerful neighbour — something to be handled with extraordinary delicacy.

Which is why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can be expected to compare notes with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, when the two meet this weekend.

“Canada is not the only country whose nationals are detained in China,” Kimihiro Ishikane, Japan’s ambassador to Canada, told CBC News. “A certain number of our nationals are also detained in China.”


Japanese Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane speaks to CBC News on April 24, 2019. (CBC News/Andrew Lee)

Since China updated its national security laws in late 2014, nine Japanese citizens have been jailed or detained in China on espionage-related charges.

Some have been held for up to three years, while at least one recently received a 12-year jail sentence for spying last July.

There is a long history of diplomatic tension between Tokyo and Beijing, but it was rekindled in 2012 in a dispute over eight uninhabited islands — little more than hunks of rock — in the East China Sea.

Both countries lay claim to the islands, which are known as the Diaoyu islands in China and as the Senkaku islands in Japan.

They’re important economically because of potential mineral reserves and fishing rights in the surrounding seas. Their strategic military value comes from their proximity to nearby shipping lanes.

Japan recently deployed ground forces and missiles near the islands, where Chinese warships frequently sail.

The takeaway for Canada from this long-running saga, said Ishikane, is that managing and resolving a dispute with China requires patience, stamina and consistent messaging.

“We have to be very, extremely cautious in how we convey the message,” he said. “How we convey the message, who conveys it, at what time and how.”

Canada hasn’t exactly excelled in its message management since the Chinese detained Kovrig and Spavor late last year. Early this year, Trudeau fired his then-ambassador to China, John McCallum, after the ambassador appeared to be stepping offside with the Liberal government in controversial remarks about Wanzhou’s extradition case.

Since then, the diplomatic brawl with the Chinese has spread to the canola fields of Western Canada, where a move by China to block shipments of canola seed has producers looking anxiously to planting season

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe before a family photograph during the G7 leaders summit in La Malbaie, Que., on Friday, June 8, 2018. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ishikane said Abe and his country’s foreign minister have picked their moments to make their points with China.

“Sometimes we need to say it in public, and many times we need to do that in a very discreet manner,” he said.

Relations between Japan and China did warm up following Abe’s trip to Beijing last fall. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Japan for this year’s G20 summit in Osaka.

The gathering of world leaders is also something Abe and Trudeau will talk about — but the matter of the detainees feeds into the important, big-picture questions the two prime ministers will have to consider this weekend, said Ishikane.

“How to interact with China? How to have a constructive relation with that huge country is an area where we can really compare notes,” he said. “China is an opportunity, but could be a challenge.”

Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said China has been playing hardball with Canada and the Liberal government should push back more forcefully, even at the risk of further retaliation.

“The Chinese will continue to ratchet up the pressure. I think they truly believe — they’re convinced — that if they put enough pressure on us we will free Meng Wanzhou,” he said.

Beijing has “the weight and they’ll swing it and they do it in part to demonstrate” that to other nations, he added.

Robertson said the Trudeau government should recognize that it is dealing with an authoritarian regime which takes “hostages” to secure leverage — which should come as no surprise, since China was using it as a part of its statecraft during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.

Take Advantage of CETA

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Canadian businesses not seizing on CETA as much as Europeans, need a culture shift, say analysts

By Neil Moss      
The feds hope small- and medium-sized businesses take advantage of new export opportunities, but transportation costs may deter many.
International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr says the government’s plan to increase overseas exports by 50 per cent by 2025 is rooted in the ‘art of the possible.’ The The European Union’s ambassador to Canada says though it’s been more than a year and a half since the two sides’ trade deal largely came into effect, EU companies have been more aggressive exploring new opportunities in Canada than Canadian companies have in Europe.

While the Canadian government has touted such deals in its desire to diversify Canadian trade, experts say a trade deal can only go so far, and there needs to be a culture shift to get Canadian businesses to think beyond the United States, Canada’s largest trading partner.

In the first year since the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU was 98 per cent provisionally implemented in September 2017, there was an increase of 4.5 per cent in bilateral trade. EU exports to Canada have risen nine to 10 per cent, Peteris Ustubs told reporters on April 12, but Canadian exports have been largely flat. Twelve of 28 EU countries have ratified the deal, but all must do so for the sweeping deal to be fully permanently in force.

“I think Canadian enterprises should discover more [about] Europe,” he said. “And diversifying its exports all across [the] European Union and [making] sure that CETA is used by all sizes of enterprises,” whether they’re big business or small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

But it’s up for debate if SMEs will ever look to Europe in large numbers, say trade analysts.

“l believe the government is doing as much as government can do. At the end of the day, it’s up to the businesses to be able to step up and take the risk and invest the time and the money and the blood, sweat, and tears to go into new markets,” said Adam Taylor, president of Export Action Global. “Governments can only do so much.”

SMEs make up of the vast majority of Canada’s private sector with more than 90 per cent of the workforce, and 95 per cent of net job creation, according to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Approximately 25 per cent of Canada’s exports are from small- and medium-sized businesses, but the great majority are sent to the United States.

In the 2018 fall economic statement, the government set a goal to increase overseas exports by 50 per cent by 2025 as part of its Export Diversification Strategy. The strategy allotted $1.1-billion for improvements in trade infrastructure, as well as resources for exports, including $184-million for the Trade Commissioner Service.

EU Ambassador Peteris Ustubs says EU companies have been more aggressive than their Canadian counterparts in exploring new export opportunities. The Hill Times file photograph

Mr. Taylor—who was a former senior adviser to then-international trade minister Ed Fast during the CETA negotiations—said it is the “ultimate Canadian challenge” to convince Canadian businesses to look away from the American export market.

During the CETA negotiations, Mr. Fast launched the Global Markets Action Plan that targeted SMEs to look beyond the American market, as statistics pointed that if the number of small- and medium-sized businesses that looked at emerging markets doubled, tens and thousands of jobs would be created, Mr. Taylor said.

“[It’s] a real true culture shift or transformative move to look beyond the U.S. market and look to markets where you just don’t have a natural … easy geographical place to go,” he said, “and that’s a real challenge.”

International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr (Winnipeg South Centre, Man.) told The Hill Times CETA is “progressing well,” citing increases of merchandise exports to the EU of 4.4 per cent and service increases of 6.4 per cent. He also said exports subject to duty to countries under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) have increased by 20 per cent.

Mr. Carr noted the goal to increase overseas export by 50 per cent isn’t “pure science,” but it is based in the “art of the possible.”

He added that is in the national interest of both the government and exporters to diversify and expand their trading markets.

Conservative MP Randy Hoback (Prince Albert, Sask.) said it’s tough for Canada to compete on the global trade market due to high taxes, which will prevent Canada from reaching its increased export goal.

Carlo Dade, director of the trade and investment centre at the Canada West Foundation, said it’s up to individual companies to decide if it makes sense for them.

“Time and time again, [Canadian companies] will not look beyond the U.S., and that’s just an intransigence at that level that is incredible hard to move,” Mr. Dade said, adding that success from the trade diversification strategy is not going to be a massive shift, but “a modest bump” in companies looking at other markets.

Mr. Dade said he is optimistic as some companies have been thinking about the EU market, and out of those he expects a “handful” to make the move towards the new market opportunities.

“At least for the first time, they’re asking questions,” he said.

The many trade support services can confuse and scare small businesses as there can be 10 to 12 agencies, and Mr. Dade said business owners are unsure which one is meant for them.

Corinne Pohlmann, senior vice-president of national affairs and partnerships at Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which represents SMEs, said the federal Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) can be helpful if a business is in one of the sectors the government has targeted for export growth.

Ms. Pohlmann added that many small businesses don’t know about the TCS.

“They don’t know they exist and they don’t know what they do,” she said, adding she has spoken to a couple of small business owners who didn’t think the TCS would deal with them as they are too small.

Around one-quarter of CFIB members export, and the “vast majority” export to the United States, she said, while only about five per cent ship to Europe. Ms. Pohlmann said one of the biggest barriers to greater exports is transportation costs, which will always make the United States an attractive export market.

“Most” of the trade promotion funding allocated by the government was aimed at SMEs, Mr. Carr told The Hill Times.

Businesses want ‘lion’s share’ of focus to support Canada-U.S. trade, says NDP MP Ramsey

NDP MP Tracey Ramsey (Essex, Ont.), her party’s international trade critic, said she has heard a common complaint from businesses that there is inadequate support systems to help them export.

“I would like to see more people in the Trade Commissioner Service to be able to help SMEs,” she said.

Canadian businesses that have spoken to NDP MP Tracey Ramsey have told her that they want the ‘lion’s share’ of Canada’s trade agenda to be focused on improving Canada-U.S. trade, she said. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Ms. Ramsey said many of the services, like the TCS, as well as the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada (EDC), are set up to serve large companies.

As vice-chair of the House International Trade Committee, Ms. Ramsey said she has heard from SMEs and big companies that they want the “lion’s share” of Canada’s trade agenda to be focused on improving Canada-U.S. trade.

“The other deals are … things very far down the road potentially in the future, whereas our trade with the United States is very tangible and real to them,” she added.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), replacing NAFTA, has been signed, but has yet to be ratified as U.S. Democrats in the House of Representatives have raised concerns over labour and environmental provisions.

Jason Langrish, executive director of the Canada Europe Roundtable for Business, said trade trouble with the United States doesn’t directly correlate with a company’s desire to diversify.

He said trade disputes have to get pretty bad before companies look to other markets, and for many Canadian companies their position with the U.S. hasn’t reached that level. Mr. Langrish added that some companies may be looking at the EU and not seeing the type of “home runs” they have gotten through exporting to the United States, and without that opportunity, companies have been hesitant to invest the energy into penetrating a new market.

There has also been a level of risk aversion for Canadian companies, Mr. Langrish said, as they look at the trade uncertainty due to Brexit in the United Kingdom, Canada’s largest European trading partner.

Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and trade negotiator on the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, said it will take a while before a noticeable increase in Canadian exports to the EU, requiring hard work that will take time. Mr. Robertson said it usually takes two or three years before results of any trade deal are seen.

“I think [it’s] true of all governments, whether it’s Conservative, Liberal, and NDP … [they] sometimes get taken up with rhetoric and forget about the absolute real hard work that has to go into actually turning an opportunity into profit,” the former Canadian consul general in Los Angeles said.

Aside from the overall export numbers associated with CETA, there are signs of “really strong growth,” said Brian Kingston, vice-president of international and fiscal policy at the Business Council of Canada. He said sectors that had tariffs cut by one per cent or more by the deal experienced 21 per cent growth in 2018.

Both Mr. Kingston and Mark Agnew, senior director of international policy at Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said that now is the time for businesses to take advantage of the market access opportunities, as they are in a preferred position compared to American companies, and that likely will end some time in the future.

Prior to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016, the United States and the EU were in the midst of free trade negotiations, but they were halted by the Trump administration.

“This isn’t a permanent advantage that we have, there is a relatively short window that we should be taking advantage of right now to the max,” Mr. Kingston said.

China: Canola and Kovrig & Spavor

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For months, both Canadian citizens and a key part of the Canadian economy have been held hostage by China. After Canada’s detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, Beijing responded; for nearly 150 days, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig have been jailed, denied legal representation, forced to endure sleep deprivation and, in the case of the latter, had his diplomatic immunity abused as an on-leave Canadian foreign-service officer. Beijing then claimed that our canola is infected by pests. That canola embargo is a double whammy: It cuts our current market in half, and also sows doubt among Canadians about our health and safety standards.

If the Trudeau government continues to let this pass without response, we can expect the Chinese to ratchet up the pressure. Our beef, pork and seafood could be next. It’s due time for more muscular action.

To address the canola embargo, we need to implement a food chain and inspection system that is the best in the world. We need to show foreign customers and Canadians alike that our food is of the highest quality and that “Made in Canada” is a signal of a premium brand.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is sending a minister-led delegation to demonstrate to Chinese authorities that Canadian canola is pest-free. To prepare for the inevitably long waits to see Chinese officials, the delegation should read Lord Macartney’s account of his 1793 mission to China’s emperor, which was unsuccessful because of the deep divides between the two sides.

The success of any Canadian mission will not come in China, but in visits to markets of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. To help those efforts, we should redeploy the trade commissioners recently added to China to those markets instead.

The United States needs to do more to help with the detained Canadians. Our unenviable position stems from Washington’s extradition request of Ms. Meng, and that process, governed by the rule of law, was needlessly complicated when Donald Trump mused about including her in a China-U.S. trade deal. But if there is a deal, the U.S. must receive assurances that Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor will be freed.

Canada should take the plight of the hostages to the various international human-rights tribunals and encourage human-rights NGOs to include them in their advocacy. We are championing the displaced Rohingya; why not press the cause of the million-plus Uyghurs kept in Chinese concentration camps? It will demonstrate to China that size does not mean a pass on human rights.

We should apply Magnitsky sanctions against those responsible for depriving the two Canadians of their human rights. We should also put a hold on student visas for the children of senior Chinese officials. As for Chinese goods entering Canada, they need careful inspection with a “name and shame” approach to counterfeits and tainted goods.

We should also formally declare that Huawei equipment will not be used in our 5G network buildout because we do not trust China. We should stand with our Five Eyes intelligence partners – the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand – who fear Huawei will be a conduit for Chinese espionage or cybersabotage.

Our intelligence agencies report that Chinese agents are engaging in illicit activities, including trying to recruit Chinese students and influence politicians. These agents should be either arrested or, if they are working under diplomatic cover, sent home.

It’s also time to send the current Chinese ambassador packing. Lu Shaye has accused Canada of “Western egotism and white supremacy.” With the forced resignation of John McCallum as Canada’s envoy to China, we also need a new ambassador in Beijing. The Chinese will expect our new envoy to have commensurate stature as our U.S. ambassador, David MacNaughton – a fair request – but we expect a Group of Seven-level ambassador in return.

Our next ambassador needs to be tough-minded and go into the job without illusions. Xi Jinping’s China is authoritarian, and does not care about human rights. It believes that its system is superior and more efficient than liberal democracy.

A resurgent China is using the Meng affair to demonstrate its power and influence, and in doing so, it is redefining the norms of the rules-based order. Other authoritarians, looking to follow China’s lead, are watching closely.

So we must push back. Efforts to bring international pressure to bear on Beijing netted public condemnatory statements on our hostages from some of our allies as well as an open letter from think tanks and former envoys to China. It annoyed and embarrassed Chinese leadership. We need to urge our allies to keep up that pressure.

Turning the other cheek and hoping for a change of heart won’t work. Our hostages and canola farmers need help. Mr. Trudeau, it’s time to fight back.

CGAI Vice President Colin Robertson was on Power & Politics this week to discuss Canada’s trade relationship with China:



Click Here to watch the full interview.


Can Trump get USMCA through Congress?

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Can President Donald Trump do a deal with Congress on the new North American trade pact? The Trump administration will pressure Canada and Mexico to move on USMCA, but let’s wait and see if Mr. Trump can deliver Congress.

Trade accords are like plays in three acts. In the first act, the governments decide on their respective objectives and get formal – as required in the United States – or informal legislative approval. The second act is the negotiation, with the ups and downs of the successive rounds and then the end-game gives and takes that, in the case of the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement culminated in the three leaders’ signature last November.

Now comes the final act, USMCA’s legislative implementation. It’s no sure thing.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his team have been busy drafting legislation and briefing the House ways and means (where USMCA gets first consideration), and the Senate finance committees and their respective trade sub-committees. The International Trade Commission’srequired USMCA economic assessment, delayed by the government shutdown, will likely show marginal economic gains beyond the current trade deal, the North American free-trade agreement.

The Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) gives Congress 90 legislative days to give USMCA up or down approval. Most Republicans will endorse the pact so Senate passage is likely. But passage won’t be easy with various Democratic contenders for 2020 campaigning against Mr. Trump.

A blatantly Trump label on USMCA would likely doom it in a polarized Congress. Should Mr. Trump follow through on his threat to rescind NAFTA and tell the Democrat to take it or leave it, the Democrats may do just that, taking a page from the obstructionist GOP playbook during the Obama administration.

House passage will depend on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow Democrat committee chairs Richard Neal of Massachusetts and Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer and enough the 100-plus members in the centrist New Democratic Coalition. The progressive wing of the Democrat caucus wants changes. Can Mr. Lighthizer deliver enough of what members will want? Ironically, Mr. Lighthizer will point to the Canadian-inspired labour and environmental chapters with their enforcement provisions to secure Democrats’ votes

As usual, there are competing U.S. interests lobbying for and against USMCA’s passage. Canada and Mexico can play a supporting role in encouraging passage, but now it’s an American debate.

There will be he hiccups. We need to be prepared to reopen the deal if the Democrats insist. As Speaker in 2008, Ms. Pelosi upended the TPA forcing changes to President George W. Bush’s trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Korea. And how would a U.S.-China deal affect passage Ms. Freeland rightly asks why are they applied against the US’s closest ally?

Americans need to know, as Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said this week, that passage of USMCA in Canada and Mexico will depend on them rescinding the steel and aluminum tariffs. Imposed under ‘national security’ provisions, Ms. Freeland rightly asks why are they applied against the US’s closest ally?  Economic evidence says that while steel profits may be up, these tariffs are hurting Americans. The lumber tariffs add $9000 to the construction of an American house.

For most of the House and Senate committee members, whether Democrat or Republican, Canada and Mexico are the main export markets for their districts or states. Our diplomats need to drive home this fact pointing out the jobs created by our trade and investment.

Our embassy has state fact sheets and the Business Council of Canada created a nifty district-level map. Our legislators – federal and provincial, as well as business and labour – should draw on them in discussions with their counterparts. We can adjust our advocacy campaign, but we need to sustain its tempo.

Mexico needs to pass labour reform legislation. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s party now controls both chambers in the Mexican Congress and it will likely happen. But not while the tariffs are in place and any U.S. pressure to pay for Mr.Trump’s wall would back-fire.

Much of the new North American accord draws from the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership that were negotiated by both the Harper and Trudeau governments. Canada’s fall election may intervene before parliamentarians consider the USMCA. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he could have negotiated a better deal. He may get the chance but, if so, what would he change?

Until Mr. Trump delivers, Canada and Mexico should hold their own ratification efforts. While we should encourage congressional passage, our efforts need to focus on rescinding the steel, aluminum and lumber tariffs. For now, it is up to Mr. Trump and Congress. Let’s see him demonstrate his art of the deal.

Strategic Patience with China

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Strategic patience. That’s what’s needed now with China.

Canada did the right thing in acceding to the U.S. Justice Department’s request to extradite Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou. We long ago allied ourselves to the United States, and this partnership serves Canadian interests.

Unfortunately, our China relationship is now as much hostage to the outcome of the Sino-American trade dispute as are our hostages: Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. The affair does demonstrate to Canadians a different face of China: the ‘claws of the panda’ – the descriptive title of Jonathan Manthorpe’s book outlining Chinese efforts at intimidation and influence in Canada.

Like the rest of the West, successive Canadian governments were dazzled by Chinese growth. The lure of contracts mostly turned a blind eye to its authoritarian excesses. The Harper government had reservations, but most Western governments were willing to give China the benefit of the doubt over its authoritarianism and human-rights abuses. The prevailing belief was that economic progress would inevitably lead to political liberalization.

It turns out that Western democratic liberalism is neither easily transferable nor inevitable. Like Mao Zedong, Chinese President Xi Jinping has achieved personal rule through the Chinese Communist Party. Mr. Xi is reverting to state control of the economy.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to confront China over its trade practices is long overdue. The forced transfers of technology from companies that partner with Chinese companies, intellectual-property theft, subsidies to state-owned enterprises and dumping steel has hurt Canadians as well as Americans.

The Sino-American tariff war is set to resume in March when U.S rates are scheduled to riseThe tariffs have disrupted the markets and supply chains. They are also hurting the Chinese economy, but the Chinese show no signs of making the necessary structural changes, nor are we anywhere near the verification and enforcement provisions the United States deems foundationalto any China deal.

The Trump approach is awkward. But bringing along the trading partners and using multilateralism is not the Trump way.

Our hostages, meanwhile, are two months into their Chinese captivity. We need to continue rallying international support for their release. It’s a sad reflection on the West that our allies required encouragement, and even then not everyone stood up.

Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye describes Canadian actions as “white supremacy.” He wants us to stop. We must not. We need to keep the public spotlight on our hostages. We should raise their plight in the United Nations Human Rights Council, where Chinese treatment of minority Uyghurs has already come under condemnation.

It’s also time for a strategic shift in Canada’s Asia-Pacific policy. We need to move away from its overriding emphasis on China and focus more on developing markets and shoring up trade and security relations with our democratic partners in the Pacific.

The “window is open” says Japanese Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane. The Japanese have not always been so forthcoming, so we should take up their offer to expand trade and investment with the world’s third-largest economy.

We also need to make sure we are taking full advantage of our free-trade agreement with South Korea.

Above all, we should prioritize the new Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) with resources and attention. The new partnership, with its high standards and enforcement provisions on intellectual property, labour and the environment, is now our main entrée into the Pacific. We need to encourage the remaining ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and other Pacific countries to join up. With a different president, the United States will likely rejoin the pact. In different circumstances, China might also come aboard. As a recent Peterson Institute report argues, membership offers China a chance “to shape the global innovation economy while signalling clear commitment to outward-oriented reforms and global norms.”

As long as China wants regional dominance with kowtowing tributaries, Canada’s relationship with the Middle Kingdom will be difficult.

China wants to influence our thinking on China, but we need to be sure that its efforts are transparent. We need to practise constructive vigilance in our dealings. This means close attention to Chinese involvement with our businesses, elected officials and academic institutions. We must resist any effort to undermine our democracy. The rule of the law is what differentiates our system from theirs.

Once our hostages are returned, we need a public debate before resetting the relationship. For now, with our trade ambitions in the deep freeze, the best approach to China is strategic patience and a focus on our democratic Pacific partners.

Time for new Ambassadors

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January 27 2019 11:05am

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson tells Mike Le Couteur now that Ambassador McCallum has been ousted as Canada’s ambassador to China, China needs to do the same with its ambassador to Canada.Michael Couture interviews Colin Robertson on West Block

McCallum’s firing an opportunity to ‘reset’ relations with China: former diplomat


WATCH: Colin Robertson says China’s Ambassador to Canada should be removed

 A A

The firing of John McCallum as Canada’s ambassador to China represents an opportunity for the two countries to reset their relationship, according to a former diplomat.

READ MORE: McCallum out as Canadian ambassador to China after comments on Meng extradition

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday that McCallum had been told to hand in his resignation hours after he was quoted saying it would be “great for Canada” if the U.S. dropped its extradition request for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

McCallum’s firing left Ottawa’s strategy for navigating tensions with Beijing in disarray; it came days after the former immigration minister and Liberal MP said he misspoke in telling Chinese-language journalists that Meng had arguments that could aid her legal fight against extradition.

WATCH: Freeland calls international support from allies ‘encouraging’ over detained Canadians in China

“It’s an opportunity to reset the relationship. We’ve now got the opportunity to put in a new ambassador,” Colin Robertson, former diplomat and vice-president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, said on The West Block on Sunday.

READ MORE: Detention of Canadians by China was ‘retaliation’ for Meng arrest: former U.S. envoy to China

“I think we should also be pushing for a new Chinese ambassador because some of the comments that he’s made about white supremacy are just off the reservation,” Robertson added in reference to ambassador Lu Shaye’s accusation that Canada’s calls for the release of detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were driven by “Western egotism and white supremacy.”

WATCH: Government explains firing of Canada’s Ambassador to China

Robertson said the appointment of new ambassadors could pave the way for more fruitful engagement, and that the Canadian government should “impress upon the Chinese that we’re prepared to engage with them.”

However, the first priority is getting Kovrig and Spavor released and convincing China to mitigate the death sentence handed to convicted drug smuggler Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, Robertson added.

In the wake of McCallum’s resignation, Jim Nickel, deputy head of mission at the Embassy of Canada in Beijing, will represent the country in China as charge d’affaires effective immediately, Trudeau said.

READ MORE: McCallum’s comments ‘unhelpful’ in securing release of Canadians detained in China, Mendocino says

Canada’s strategy is being closely watched by Western allies such as Australia and the U.K., Robertson said, “because they could be in this same situation so that’s why they’re banding behind us.”

But he acknowledged that, ultimately, Canada is in the middle of a spat between two far more powerful players in the U.S. — which is seeking Meng’s extradition — and China.

“I don’t think much is going to happen until the China-U.S. relationship is sorted out and, of course, we’re through this extradition hearing with Meng Wanzhou,” Robertson said.

— With files from the Canadian Press

Michael Le Couteur: So, where does this leave the Canadians caught in the crossfire in China? Well joining me right now is a former diplomat, Colin Robertson. Thanks very much for joining us.

Colin Robertson: Good to be with you, Michael.

Michael Le Couteur: So I guess the first question is the message to the families now of these detained, how are they to feel right now?

Colin Robertson: Well it’s the same, we’re—the Canadian government has got their back and our representatives in China and headed now by our chargé, who are making every effort to defend their interests and particularly getting access to them to report on the conditions they’re in. That’s got to be the concern of the families is how are their husband, brothers, and sons?

Michael Le Couteur: But how do we now get that message back on track going forward with China? Because everything the Chinese have seen right now are two different messages: one from the prime minister and one from McCallum. How do we right this ship?

Colin Robertson: Well the emphasis, once again, I think as we heard this morning, the government is doubling down on the rules based approach, which is exactly right. Because for a country like Canada, we need rules, especially when you’re a middle power to be able to deal with big, that’s what levels the playing field. So the rules based institutions and the rules based approach, which is at the heart of this whole extradition affair, is what we talk about, but it’s also an opportunity to reset the relationship. We’ve now got an opportunity to put in a new ambassador. I think we should also be pushing for a new Chinese ambassador because some of the comments that he’s made about white supremacy is just off the reservation and I think we impress upon the Chinese that we want to have a new—restart the relationship, but we probably need new quarterbacks in the field because frankly, we don’t—the Chinese didn’t necessarily trust Mr. McCallum anymore, or did he have the confidence of the prime minister, and we don’t trust, I think, the Chinese ambassador. So I think it starts with that. The alternative might be something like special envoys which are better to have ambassadors who you can trust and work with.

Michael Le Couteur: But I mean resetting some of the players is a good plan, but so much of the game has already been played. How do we get anybody to forget the first three quarters of all of this?

Colin Robertson: Well they won’t, but you go in with a new ambassador and perhaps an ambassador here and they engage. I mean it’s all about engagement. We think about sending over a ministerial delegation. We impress upon the Chinese that we’re prepared to engage with them. But first and foremost, we’ve got to be getting the two Canadians that we are detained, we think unfairly, out of jail and some sort of mitigation on the sentence of Mr. Schellenberg, although that would be different and that’s on a separate track. And then you get into the economic relationship and then the sort of broader interests as well. And remember, other countries are going to be watching how we’re handling this because they could be in the same position. In the same way—in a certain way, the Chinese are—you know, there’s this Chinese expression, you know, you kill a chicken to scare the monkeys. Well there’s a whole lot of monkeys, which are the Chinese sort of say look how we’re treating Canada. And so they will—that’s why they’re banding behind us because that’s why you’re getting the Brits and the Australians and everyone else because they could be in our position as well.

Michael Le Couteur: How much more difficult will it be to smooth over relationships, especially with the Chinese? Because they are such a superpower, because of how traditional they are in relationships.

Colin Robertson: Well the Chinese have interests, too, and I think they would understand they have people into China have gone off the reservation and they deal with them in a more summary fashion than Mr. McCallum’s been dealt with. So this doesn’t normally happen, but this is extraordinary even for Canada, but is an opportunity, as I say, to reset. But I think you need some new players, two new ambassadors and then with a clear goal to get the relationship back on track. Now, I don’t think anything much is going to happen until the China-U.S. relationship is sorted out and of course we’re through this extradition hearing with Meng Wanzhou.

Michael Le Couteur: And just quickly, if you were to advise the prime minister what to do in the next couple days ahead. Does he have to call President Xi to go look, hey, sorry about all this, let’s reset?

Colin Robertson: No. I think that we’ve got a chargé who will deliver a message. Well, I think Chrystia Freeland could talk to her counterpart. He may well pick up the phone to talk to his counterpart, the premier. Not the president, because the Chinese aren’t—the president won’t take it, again, their very particular minded. And just sort of say—and I think deliver the message. Okay, we’re going to be appointing a new ambassador fairly soon, we’d like you to consider something as well because we think this important relationship should get back on track.

Michael Le Couteur: I appreciate your time. That’s all the time we have for you today, Colin Robertson. Thanks so much for joining us.

John McCallum’s political skills failed both him and Trudeau

The consequences of McCallum’s departure are serious and time sensitive

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulates former immigration minister John McCallum he made his final statement in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Jan. 31, 2017, before he took up his Beijing post. This week the prime minister fired McCallum. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

John McCallum got the job as Canada’s ambassador to China because of his political background. The clear signal to the Chinese was that the former cabinet minister could pick up the phone and speak directly to the prime minister.

In the end McCallum’s political skills failed both him and the man who sent him to Beijing.

His last call with the PM wasn’t initiated by him — it was Justin Trudeau firing him from the post.

Virtually every analyst says McCallum had to go for telling the media, not once but twice this week, that it would be better for Canada if Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou isn’t extradited to the United States.

One slip-up could be forgiven. The second could not.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who’s now vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said McCallum’s firing was unavoidable.

“In private discussions with the Chinese he might be able to say those things,” Robertson told CBC News on Sunday. “To say those things publicly is completely counter to what the prime minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have been saying — that this is a judicial process based on the rule of law.”

McCallum’s comments suggested just the opposite, lending credence to what Chinese had insisted all along — Meng’s arrest was political.

It’s a devastating setback for Canadian diplomacy with China.

When Justin Trudeau first met President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Turkey back in November 2015, Xi made a point of praising his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, for what he called his “historic engagement” with China in 1970.

“China will always remember that,” Xi said.

Better left unsaid

In sending McCallum to China in 2017, Trudeau was choosing a long-time cabinet member who had overseen the process of re-settling nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees.

Yes, there were risks in appointing a politician who was never loath to speak his mind to the sensitive world of diplomacy where, as the American politician Lincoln Chafee once said, “some things are better left unsaid.” That just wasn’t McCallum’s style. He was a frequent guest on political talk shows. He was never one to duck a question. Unlike most diplomats, he never bought into the notion of talking without saying anything.

But whatever those risks, Trudeau wanted the value of appointing a highly visible cabinet minister to Beijing. In doing so he elevated China to a status that had been reserved, previously, for the most important and high-profile diplomatic posts in Washington, London and Paris.

Trudeau wanted closer ties with the world’s second-largest economy. McCallum’s job was to help make that happen.

McCallum leaves a federal cabinet meeting in Sherbrooke, Que., on Wednesday, Jan. 16. He was a frequent guest on political talk shows and was never one to duck a question. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

News reports of his appointment noted McCallum’s wife is Chinese. His old riding in Markham, Ont., is home to many people of Chinese descent.

“I need my top people to be out there engaging at the highest levels around the world,” Trudeau said at the time.

The marching order, as McCallum himself set it out, was more of everything: trade, investment, tourism, cultural ties.

Those gains really never fully materialized.

Canada did secure a tourism deal with China that made it easier for Chinese tourists to visit Canada.

But the desire to commence formal free trade talks fizzled, despite the prime minister’s own visit to China in December 2017. A year later, Meng’s arrest on behalf of the United States as she stepped off a flight in Vancouver sent relations spiralling to new lows.

Choosing the next ambassador will be a delicate process

The consequences of McCallum’s departure now are serious.

Two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, remain in custody in China, accused of endangering national security, both arrested shortly after Meng was detained in Canada.

A third Canadian, convicted in China of drug smuggling, had his 15-year jail term overturned and now faces a death sentence.

McCallum’s predecessor in Beijing, Guy Saint-Jacques, said finding the right person now to represent Canada is critical.

“In my view, this crisis is the worst we have seen with China since we established diplomatic relations back in 1970.”

And whoever Trudeau chooses, it has to be soon. The lives of those three detained Canadians are in the balance. A successful resolution to that crisis, and to the Meng extradition, is paramount.

Normalizing relations with a powerful nation such as China comes next. That job will include communicating to China what role, if any, Huawei will have in Canada’s 5G mobile network.

The question now is where Trudeau will turn for his next ambassador.

Saint-Jacques, for one, believes the next ambassador has to have a deep knowledge of China. Others add that McCallum’s successor needs to be fluent in Mandarin, which McCallum wasn’t, and should come from the senior ranks of the foreign service, rather than the front lines of the political world.

Still others say the next ambassador must continue to have the ear of the prime minister.

It all adds up to this. The next call between Trudeau and Canada’s ambassador to China will be initiated by the prime minister again. And it will be just as important as his last.

Trump, Canada and the global order

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With Mr. Trump cheering the way, nationalism and competition are dominant global trends. As with Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort, this President personifies and appeals to the darker forces. If two years of Mr. Trump have taught Canada and its allies anything, it is that he cannot be trusted and that we need to take a collective stand against his bullying.

Unfortunately, populism, protectionism and polarization will persist after his presidency. So will conflicting U.S. partisan priorities. Consistency in U.S. policy and bipartisan support for alliances and multilateralism no longer apply. Canada and its allies need to adapt.

As with Mr. Trump, Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia also see the world differently. They are building authoritarian systems based on state capitalism. Western hopes that they’d become “responsible stakeholders” were ill-founded. Instead, they are weaponizing cyberintrusion, surveillance and big data to ensure domestic stability. Now they are using these tools to subvert democracies.

Together with Mr. Trump, they share a contempt for the rules-based order. They’d rather see a concert of great powers, each exercising respective spheres of influence. Thucydides long ago described this school of international affairs: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

As the Huawei situation clearly shows, China is giving Canada a taste of what life will be like in this new order. This future would be a disaster for liberal democracies such as Canada.

Mr. Trump’s policy of “America First” leaves a vacuum that all constructive powers need to fill. No one country can do it alone, but working together, we can shore up the system. Even while multilateralism is taking a beating, recent global compacts on climate and migration and a raft of regional trade deals demonstrate its worth.

But multilateralism needs constant reinvigoration. This means repairing or reforming what is breaking down in the face of technological, climatic and demographic changes. We have to help those hurt by change.

Security must be the first priority. Our top general warns of great-power dynamics, especially Russia and China. All allies have to reinvest in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It’s time to expand our durable, collective-security alliance into the Indo-Pacific and the Arctic. Australia, Japan, Korea and New Zealand are already NATO partners. They should be full members.

Given the growing maritime challenges, Canada needs more investments in its navy: procuring the next generation of submarines with under-ice operability and a half-dozen “hospital” ships for rapid deployment to increasing numbers of natural and man-made disasters in coastal areas.

Securing our democratic institutions is also vital as we prepare for an election later this year. Our intelligence agencies warn that our electoral process is not immune to bad-actor interference. Are we ready to tackle bot-controlled disinformation?

Our second priority should be to shore up the global trading system that generates our prosperity. Mr. Trump has a point about its ineffective dispute-settlement process. The solution is to fix it as Canada and others will continue to do this week when they meet in Davos, Switzerland.

The third priority must be addressing climate change. Rather than fixate on carbon pricing, we need to collaborate – on global knowledge in battery storage, renewables, and efficiencies in building codes. Use COSIA – (Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance) with its commitment to sharing technological innovations that mitigate environmental damage – as a model.

As with Humpty Dumpty, the global operating system has had a great fall. Mr. Trump and his fellow travellers will eventually face an accounting, but, until then, we need to focus on fixing rather than blaming.

Canada and other constructive countries know that we all do better when we agree that rules are the principle upon which we base our order. They level the playing field and establish norms of behaviour. Multilateralism is worth fighting for.

Changing World Order

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CTV Powerplay: From Canada’s relationship with China, to the killing of a man in Burkina Faso, a panel of experts discusses the state of global affairs. with Hon. Peter MacKay, Samantha Nutt and Colin Robertson in conversation with Don Martin

Congressional Class of 2019

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After a rancorous U.S. midterm election period, Congress and state legislatures are starting their new sessions.

Nearly one-fifth of the state legislators are newly elected, while Congress’s freshman class numbers more than 100. That means it’s time for Canada to re-engage with U.S. lawmakers – after all, we have a lot at stake and a lot of politicians to remind about our mutual dependence.

Our alliance with the United States is fundamentally about political and diplomatic relationships. And building relationships is vital to Canadian interests, especially with a new crop of legislators who haven’t yet been infected by the hardy perennials of “Buy America” thinking, which can be hard to weed out later.

Nothing is assured. That includes the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which was signed at the end of November to much fanfare, but cannot actually be sealed until implementing legislation is passed in all three countries. The U.S. Trade Promotion Authority mandates an up-or-down vote in both chambers of Congress. The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, too, might not support the proposed USMCA; most House Democrats voted against the original North American free-trade agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, even with Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. While Donald Trump has threatened to set a six-month countdown clock on the original NAFTA deal as soon as he introduces the implementing bill, thinking that this will leverage congressional passage, we can’t assume that his efforts will work.

Canada needs to continue the Team Canada advocacy effort that helped get them the USMCA deal in the first place by deploying federal ministers, premiers, members of Parliament and provincial legislators to meet their U.S. counterparts once again, and continuing to remind them of the importance of Canadian trade and investment to their districts and states in creating and sustaining jobs. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s California district, for instance, exports more than US$637-million in goods and services to Canada. An estimated 1.2 million jobs in her home state – with more than 2,770 of those in her San Francisco district – depend on Canadian-owned companies. We need to keep reminding her of this and make the same detailed pitch to every member of Congress.

The new Congress is the most diverse in U.S. history, and women now account for 127 of the 535 members. Given the creation of the Trump-Trudeau inspired Canada-United States Council for Women Entrepreneurs & Business Leaders, it would also be wise for an all-party delegation of women to meet their counterparts, primarily to build relationships but also to help advance the Council’s plan for jointly expanding female-owned business and enabling their access to capital.

In the coming days, governors in 39 states – either new or re-elected – will be taking their oath of office, too. Canada’s premiers need to call on the new governors and re-engage with the re-elected, while our consuls general should attend the swearing-in ceremonies, which are rich in networking opportunities. I remember that, as a consul general myself, I met two future California state secretaries at then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s inauguration in 2003.

February’s annual national governors’ conference in Washington also offers a chance to advocate for smart U.S. infrastructure spending from Mr. Trump’s proposed trillion-dollar “Building a Stronger America” initiative. Better transportation – such as roads, railways, ports, grids and pipelines – helps all North Americans. However, there remains no procurement chapter in the new USMCA, even though the premiers successfully achieved this in 2010 by negotiating a reciprocity agreement on procurement. By opening cross-order competition, both Canada and the United States. will get better value from procurement dollars.

Our Washington embassy, located just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol building, is a natural place for premiers and governors to get together. When Frank McKenna was our ambassador, then-Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee – father of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders – jammed on his guitar, while Nova Scotia-born country singer George Canyon and Mr. McKenna joined in on tambourines, in front of a group of Canadian and Washington movers and shakers.

Canada has an advantage over all other countries, thanks to the deep network of connections that go beyond trade and weave themselves into ties of family and friendship. Annual Gallup polling consistently demonstrates that the United States ranks Canada as its favourite country: 94 per cent of Americans like us, according to the most recent survey.

We have both position and opportunity to advance our objectives with the U.S. legislative class of 2019. We need to act – never forgetting that we are most effective when we come together as Team Canada.

Why the G20 still matters

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Ten years on, the G20 still has relevance – and not just as inspiration for a clever skit in the latest Saturday Night Live. The G20 countries are the principal shareholders in the global economy. Together, these 19 nations and the European Union represent 85 percent of global output and two-thirds of the world’s peoples.

At its best, the G20 gets the major economies steering in the same direction – essential if responsible globalization is to succeed. The G20 works with the heads of the key financial, economic and trade institutions and draws advice from business, labour and civil society.

If the G7 leadership is mostly liberal democrats, the G20 includes autocrats, authoritarians and, apparently, authorizers of assassination. Their communiqués, like their plenary sessions, tend to the platitudinous, aspirational and run-on.

The leaders’ declaration – building consensus for fair and sustainable development – is a mouthful, but its 31-point communique is the most succinct in years. Importantly, the leaders commit to improving a “rules-based international order” capable of effectively responding to our “rapidly changing world.”

The communiqué addresses the conference’s three main themes – the future of work, infrastructure and food – all areas of Canadian interest. Gender mainstreaming – the assessment of the implications of public policy on gender – is a Canadian priority and criss-crosses the entire agenda. Reform of the World Trade Organization gets a boost. A Canadian initiative on improving WTO dispute-settlement provisions got another airing at Buenos Aries.

Leaders acknowledged climate change, but avoided making a choice between renewables and fossil fuels. Instead they endorse “different possible national paths” to achieve cleaner energy systems. The IMF and World Bank are directed to get a better grip on cross-border financial flows as well as public and private debt obligations between borrowers and creditors.

The communiqué reaffirmed past commitments to combat terrorism and money laundering. It noted the threat of anti-microbial resistance. Africa and the development agenda got a nod. It punted migration and the displaced to the next G20 summit, which will be hosted by Japan in 2019.

While endorsing transformative technology, leaders implicitly recognize that some jobs are never coming back. Governments need to be creative and deliberative in addressing adjustment. Policies need to be multifaceted. This means wage subsidies, earned-income tax credits and investments in communities.

To create an innovative economy, governments need to rethink education to encourage cognitive, digital and entrepreneurship skills. Are we doing enough in early childhood development? Do our schools develop STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – competencies? Do we have the right funding balance between the ivory tower and vocational training;, between applied sciences and the liberal arts? Do we invest enough in apprenticeships? Given the mismatch in skills seen in many countries, should business have more of a voice in higher education? How do we facilitate lifelong learning?

The opportunity for formal and informal face-to-face meetings between leaders is the real value of these summits. With the principal players in one place, things can get done.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland convinced her G7 counterparts to express their “utmost concern” over Russian aggression against Ukraine. Unable to get G8 consensus around the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Canada announced its own sanctions on 17 Saudi nationals. The two actions were at least some riposte to the egregious high-fiving between Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman.

Bookending this summit was the Friday-morning signing of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the Saturday dinner shared by presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, where the two leaders agreed to a trade truce and set a 90-day deadline for a new pact.

The USMCA is not perfect. It’s more managed trade than free trade. Justin Trudeau reminded President Trump that there is still unfinished business around the steel and aluminium tariffs. Canada will probably have to settle for a cap or the kind of creative solution – wage thresholds – that broke the impasse on the auto rules of origin.

While the USMCA is now signed, it still needs to be sealed through the implementation of legislation in each country. The Trudeau government should await U.S. ratification. We need to be sure that Mr. Trump’s legislation conforms to our agreement and that he can deliver its passage through the new Congress.

Like all international institutions, the G20 has its flaws. Originally a Canadian initiative that brought finance ministers and central bankers together, it was raised to leaders’ level at the onset of the Great Recession. A decade later, it still makes a useful contribution to global welfare.