On Results of the China Trip and G20

Post-G20 Discussion: Trudeau and China

For Immediate Release

6 September 2016 – Ottawa, ON

On today’s ‘Global Exchange’ Podcast, host Colin Robertson looks at last weekend’s ‘Group of 20’ Summit in Hangzhou, China. Join Colin for a discussion with four experts in international relations – Rob Wright, Randolph Mank, Hugh Stephens, and Marius Grinius – as they look to identify the significance and impact of the most recent G20, along with the importance of Trudeau’s visit to China preluding the Summit.

What does China’s increased role international affairs mean for Canada? What did we get out of Trudeau’s visit to China, and at the G20? Does Canada have a role to play at summits such as the G20? All this and more are discussed on this weeks episode of ‘The Global Exchange’.


  • Colin Robertson (host) A former Canadian diplomat, Colin Robertson is Vice President of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a Senior Advisor to Dentons LLP.
  • Rob Wright – served as Canadian Ambassador to China from 2005-2009. He served as Ambassador to Japan from 2001-2005.
  • Randolph Mank – a three-time former Canadian ambassador and businessman, with over thirty years of experience in Asia and around the world.
  • Hugh Stephens – Executive-in-Residence at the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and Vice Chair of the Canadian Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation.
  • Marius Grinius – joined the Canadian Foreign Service in 1979 after serving in the Canadian Army for 12 years. His early overseas postings included Bangkok, NATO/Brussels and Hanoi. Assignments back in Ottawa included desk officer for nuclear arms control, Director for Asia Pacific South and then Director for South East Asia.

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Canada playing ‘long game’ on China as it tries to counter protectionism in the global economy

Marie-Danielle Smith | September 6, 2016 1:21 PM ET
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HONG KONG — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrapped up his first official visit to China Tuesday with another push for close co-operation, including on human rights, and for openness and inclusiveness in the global economy.

“The kinds of anxieties we’re seeing around the world as people are closing in are going to leave us all poorer and worse off,” he said in Hong Kong Tuesday, expanding on messages Canada brought to the G20 table Sunday and Monday.

“There are not as many bright spots in terms of growth and openness and trade as we’d like to see around the world.”

Though it has yet to be ratified, one example could be the Canada-EU trade agreement, as election rhetoric in the U.S. could leave the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal dead in the water.

During his tour, Trudeau tried to make the case that the relationship between Canada and China could be another such bright spot.

In Beijing, finance minister Bill Morneau signalled Canada’s intent to apply for membership in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, joining other countries such as the U.K. and Australia. (The United States is not a an AIIB member.)


Trudeau downplays chance of protectionist rise in Canada 2:00

And in Shanghai, trade minister Chrystia Freeland signed $1.2 billion worth of commercial deals with Chinese corporations, followed by another series of signings in Hong Kong Tuesday. A foreign investment promotion and protection agreement with Hong Kong also went into force.

In Hangzhou, just before the G20 summit got underway, Trudeau launched a Canadian pavilion on Alibaba Group’s e-commerce platform. It was, Canadian businesspeople said on Saturday, a positive way to reach more of the Chinese consumer market.

Trudeau’s high-level meetings with Chinese leadership showed strong support for trade and investment on both sides.

A spat over Chinese restrictions on Canadian canola — which Global Affairs Canada fellow Colin Robertson said was “China showing its muscle and trying to intimidate us” — was temporarily resolved amid further negotiation.

Addressing concerns in Canada, Trudeau strengthened his language on human rights Tuesday, appearing more relaxed in Hong Kong on the last day of his visit. He said he didn’t see a trade-off between human rights and a closer economic relationship.

“I think you have to talk fully and frankly about human rights and engage and talk about the challenges that need to be faced,” Trudeau said.

He added that in talks with Chinese leaders, he raised the example of a scathing 2014 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in Canada.

I don’t think it means any less of us that we recognize that there is still work to do, and that was the tenor of the conversations I had with the Chinese leadership

“I don’t think it means any less of us that we recognize that there is still work to do, and that was the tenor of the conversations I had with the Chinese leadership.”

This is all part of a “long game,” according to Roland Paris, Trudeau’s first international adviser who now teaches at the University of Ottawa. Trudeau, Paris said, is setting a positive tone to Canada’s inevitable relationship with the world’s second-biggest economy.

According to Chinese sources and social media, Trudeau remains a popular figure in China. The prime minister’s celebrity, even if often focused on his appearance, “gives Canada more attention,” Robertson said, “which thus far is almost uniformly positive.”

The fact China hosted Canada in the busy lead-up to the G20 was a strong sign of “the importance that the Chinese put on their relationship with Canada,” said Paris.

Paris rejected suggestions that Canada is pivoting away from the U.S. by joining the AIIB. “The United States will remain our principal partner, trading partner and ally just by virtue of geography,” he said. He added that the U.S. is beating Canada in the race to capitalize on trade with Asia — something Canada “can’t afford not to pursue.”

At the economy-focused G20 summit, Trudeau wasn’t in the spotlight and didn’t hold many bilateral meetings, though he did meet with new U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.

The failure of the U.S. and Russia to reach a deal on Syria stole significant attention at the summit, but Trudeau avoided commenting on the issue.

Still, in the context of the G20’s economic focus, Paris said the prime minister showed himself to be “one of the world’s leading voices for openness and inclusion and against protectionism and discrimination and xenophobia and building walls.” Trudeau, Paris said, offered a “full-throated” defence of small-l liberal values to other leaders.

With careful language around issues sensitive to China, including the South China Sea and the results of a legislative vote in Hong Kong that saw some young pro-democracy candidates elected, Trudeau appeared to want to protect a friendly start to his relationship with Chinese leadership.

And Trudeau will have an unusually short time to prepare for his next encounter with the economic giant — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expected to travel to Ottawa in mid-September.

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Hong Kong and Liberty

Hong Kong cries for liberty, and Canada should answer

Colin Robertson The Globe and Mail Tuesday, Oct. 14 2014

The demonstrations in Hong Kong over representative government are a reminder that Hong Kong continues to be, in the oft-recalled words of novelist Han Suyin, a “borrowed place on borrowed time.”

Canada has significant interests in Hong Kong. It is our best entryway into Asia, especially China. For more than a century Hong Kong – its Chinese translation is “fragrant harbour” – has been the entrepôt and Asian headquarters for Canadian business. An estimated 300,000 Canadians, many of them Hong Kong-born, live and work in the Special Administrative Region.

While our economic links are important, Canadian leaders have a duty to tell the Chinese leaders that we value not just economic liberties but political ones as well.

Two dimensions of the Hong Kong demonstrations to secure the right to choose their next chief executive stand out.

First, there is the crisis of legitimacy around the current Hong Kong government and ITS future governance.

The current arrangements are based on the Sino-British Joint Declaration, agreed in 1984 by Deng Xiaoping with Margaret Thatcher, that guaranteed Hong Kong’s autonomy – “one country, two systems”– and basic liberties for 50 years. The Basic Law of 1990 defined the nuts and bolts of those liberties, including the rule of law, an independent judiciary and a free press.

The last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, who held the post from 1992 until the handover in 1997, made valiant efforts to improve those liberties. The now-Lord Patten faced open opposition from Beijing (including unflattering epithets like “a sinner of the millennium”); fragging from the powerful business interests in Hong Kong and in London; and criticism from those within the British Foreign Office who put the China relationship ahead of any obligation to Hong Kong.

By his own admission, Lord Patten mostly failed. Hong Kong became the only example of a decolonization deliberately accompanied by less democracy and weaker protection of civil liberties. “This,” writes Lord Patten in his splendid memoir East and West, “was a cause for profound regret.”

Chinese rule has been better than its critics feared. The city is cleaner (SARS changed the hawking habit), greener (a generational shift), and richer (as a bolt-hole for mainland money) with property values amongst the highest in the world.

Until now, the liberties negotiated for Hong Kong have been mostly respected by China. Efforts in recent years to define subversion and include China-approved curriculum in schools were withdrawn after public protest. But now, as Lord Patten observes, Iran appears to be the “democratic model” on which China will run Hong Kong.

The second dimension to the demonstrations is the challenge to China.

China’s Communist leadership traditionally viewed Hong Kong as a nest of spies and troublemakers, and what some called “a pimple on the ass of China.” Until the handover, the British colony was a constant reminder of the hundred years of humiliation that China suffered after the Opium Wars (from 1839-42 and from 1856-60).

For China’s President Xi Jinping, the recent student demonstrations are an unhelpful diversion from his main objectives: underlining his primacy as China’s paramount leader and, at the same time, asserting China’s place as a global great power. Mr. Xi also contends with a slowing economy and debilitating environmental degradation on the mainland.

Mr. Xi has consolidated his authority through an anti-corruption campaign against the “flies and tigers” (who, not coincidentally, are also potential political rivals) and a firm hand with dissidents, especially amongst China’s minorities. As some Chinese say, Mr. Xi talks like Mr. Deng but hits like Mao.

The Chinese government would prefer that the West butt out of Hong Kong affairs, arguing that it is its internal affair. We should focus instead on getting rich together, argued China’s new ambassador to Canada, Luo Zhaohui, in a recent speech.

Ambassador Luo called for improving bilateral energy corridors and reiterated his predecessor’s suggestion of a Canada-China free trade pact. In an oblique reference to the Hong Kong situation, he observed that “for our deepening economic reform, stability is a must.”

Improving Canada-China economic collaboration is important and advancing economic ties are important components of the upcoming China mission of the premiers and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit around November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Beijing.

But neither the premiers nor the Prime Minister should shy away from discussing with Chinese leadership the linkage between economic and political liberties. The economic miracle that is Hong Kong – Milton Friedman described it as the living demonstration of “market economics” – depends on both economic and political liberties.

Liberty is our response to living in a world of uncertainty. We need to remind ourselves – and those who do not share our beliefs – the value of liberty. Do it quietly and politely, but do it. Leave stridency and megaphones to the students but be clear that we share their belief in liberty.

The elementary desire for freedom is the force driving all liberties, old and new. And, once again, liberty needs champions.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson served as Canadian Consul in Hong Kong. Vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, he is a senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP.

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