Legislative Agenda 2023

      Comments Off on Legislative Agenda 2023

Colin Robertson, former Canadian diplomat

Hill Times January 30,2023

Colin Robertson: ‘In my experience, governments’ legislative agenda and priorities reflect two things: the electoral timetable and the public priorities.’ The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

“In my experience, governments’ legislative agenda and priorities reflect two things: the electoral timetable and the public priorities,” said former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who served as a legislative assistant to the late Allan MacEachen when he was the country’s first deputy prime minister, as well as secretary of state for external affairs in former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s government from 1982 to 1984.

According to a recent survey by Abacus Data, where the rising cost of living, health care and the economy were the top three issues of concern, Robertson said that he would expect health care “to be high on the agenda given the public mood.”

Three Amigos Summit

      Comments Off on Three Amigos Summit

Three Amigos Summit sets up Biden’s Ottawa visit to focus on critical minerals, ‘North American industrial policy’: experts

Joe Biden will visit Canada in March for the first time since he was elected U.S. president and Canada’s critical minerals is expected to top the agenda.

U.S. President Joe Biden, pictured here on the Hill on Dec. 8, 2016, when he was vice-president to president Barack Obama, will make his first official visit to Canada in March.

As the North American Leaders’ Summit wrapped up in Mexico City on Jan. 11, the eyes of stakeholders, MPs, and expert observers are turning quickly to U.S. President Joe Biden’s anticipated visit to Canada in March—the first official visit of his presidency.

The Three Amigos Summit ended with many promises made between the three countries, with a heavy emphasis on migration, drug trafficking, and trade. Canada walked away with a promise of further attention from Biden after he finally committed to making his first state visit to Canada in March, two years into the leader’s mandate.

“That’s a big deal, Canada should be happy about that. And the planning is in earnest now for March,” said Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canada-American Business Council and an expert on Canada-U.S. relations.

Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canada-American Business Council, said critical minerals will be the focus of Canada-U.S. bilateral relations in the coming months. Handout photograph

Asked what the focus will be during the next few months as both governments prepare for the visit, Greenwood said critical minerals and the production, processing, and recycling of them.

“That’s huge. Actually, I think that’s maybe the biggest opportunity for Canada,” she said.

The United States will always turn to its allies for help on global and regional issues, Greenwood said. And critical minerals could be a way for Canada to not only improve its trade relations with the U.S.—which at times have been fraught under Biden’s protectionist ‘Buy American’ policies—but would also be seen as a way to assist the U.S. on issues of global importance, particularly when it comes to China, Greenwood said.

“Critical minerals helps with the China question, and it helps with North American competitiveness and investment,” she said.

“Industry is [ready for it], provinces are [ready for it], and the feds seem to be indicating an interest in it. We’ll see. We’ll see what they come up with between now and March,” she concluded.

Canada released its Critical Minerals Strategy on Dec. 9, 2022, one month before the summit. The driving motive behind the strategy is to mine critical minerals in Canada to “support the development of domestic and global value chains for the green and digital economy.”

“Critical” minerals are technically subjective, and the determination of what is a critical mineral changes based on need. Currently, critical minerals including lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt, copper, and rare earth elements are highly sought-after as they are essential to the development of clean energy, including batteries for electric cars.

At the summit, the United States and Mexico were primarily concerned about migration and cross-border drug trafficking. Combatting American protectionism, meanwhile, was a priority for the Canadian delegation to the summit, as evidenced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) emphasis on free trade between the three countries.

“We share deep ties as friends and trading partners,” said Trudeau early in his remarks at joint press conference held after the trilateral meetings on Jan. 10. In French, he lauded the decades-long partnership between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico via the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—now the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement, or CUSMA.

But trade between the three countries—particularly Canada and the U.S.—is often mired with disputes, and Biden’s ‘Buy American’ policies have at times threatened the integrity of markets that are very much integrated across borders, including the auto industry.

Laura Macdonald, an expert in North American politics at Carleton University’s political science department, said Canada’s main objective at the conference was to stress “co-operation, not competition between the three countries.”

She said Canada generally got what it wanted out of the discussions—no mention of ‘Buy American’ policies, and getting trilateral commitment on things like mapping critical minerals, and deepening supply chains—which will now set the stage for Biden’s upcoming visit. Macdonald noted the leaders avoided specific trade disputes and instead focused on the bigger picture.

In a Jan. 10 press release from the Prime Minister’s Office detailing Trudeau’s meeting with Biden, critical minerals earned second mention—after the headliner of Biden’s upcoming Ottawa visit—highlighting “the critical importance of North American trade, competitiveness, and supply chains, including critical minerals and semiconductors.”

A map of Canada showing possible sites for critical minerals mines, smelters, refineries, and advanced projects. There are possible locations in all provinces and territories except Prince Edward Island, with heavier concentrations in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. Map courtesy of Natural Resources Canada

Canada’s Critical Minerals Strategy is important for the country’s transition to a green economy, but also as a bargaining chip for Canada in the international arena. The strategy comes as the European Union moves away from reliance on Russian energy, and the U.S. looks to source resources from its allies, rather than foes—particularly China. (In fact, in November 2022, Canada declared its critical minerals would be off-limits for Chinese investment—a strategy business columnist David Olive wrote was “friend-shoring.”)

Former Canadian diplomat and expert in Canada-U.S. relations Colin Robertson said the critical minerals question is central to reinvigorating “the North America idea.”

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat and a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the ‘North American idea … actually may have some more life to it.’ Handout photograph

“The North American idea, which has waxed and waned, actually may have some more life to it. We’ll see. The tests will come with these ministerial-level meetings, [where] attention from the top on the economic front is supply chains, electric vehicles, semi-conductors, [and] how we manage critical minerals,” Robertson said.

Robertson pointed to how critical minerals are essential in auto production. If Canada can mine critical minerals and make the country an essential partner for electric vehicle (EV) production, then it can have some leverage when engaging in trade talks with American counterparts. Recently, Biden caused some strain on the Canada-U.S. trade relationship when he offered Americans a rebate if they bought EVs produced entirely in America, excluding those that may have had Canadian parts.

“We do have the potential to create a new electric vehicle to kind of rebirth the North American car industry,” Robertson said.

“Basically what we’re moving to is a North American industrial policy,” said Robertson. “Americans have adopted it, Mexicans are there. … We’re getting into it, almost from an external perspective, rather than internal.”

Macdonald noted the critical minerals strategy would likely continue to play a significant role in Canada-U.S. relations, particularly with the upcoming Biden trip.

But Macdonald noted that while there’s a lot of excitement around these critical minerals, most of them are still very much in the ground, and much of that ground is on Indigenous land.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on Canada’s possession of a lot of critical mineral resources. I think they recognized in the statement, there are a lot of issues around recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples and communities in development of those resources. And those are really tough issues. It’s going to be interesting how Canada starts approaching more intensive development of those factors,” she said.

NDP MP Brian Masse (Windsor West, Ont.), his party’s trade critic, said it’s clear Canada is still repairing “the damage and the distance” with the U.S. and Mexico.

“Things that should have been low-hanging fruit and accomplished before the summit were still being dealt with,” he said, referencing the problems with Nexus, the expedited travel program for frequent Canada-U.S. cross-border travellers.

NDP MP Brian Masse said it appears to him that Canada has some rebuilding to do with the United States and Mexico when it comes to Canada delivering on its promises. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

As part of their bilateral talks, Biden and Trudeau came to an agreement to clear the backlog on Nexus.

As a border MP, Masse said he’s glad to see a temporary solution for the program being put in place, but said it was “shocking” it took a meeting between heads of state to finally make progress on the issue.

Masse said the U.S. lacks trust in Canada to follow through on its commitments. He suggested the same issue would come up again regarding critical minerals.

“We’re, again, talking about how we can deliver on things, and we really focus on the hyperbole, but we have less, you know, real solid action plans to get them done,” he said.

The U.S. wants Canada to get more involved with Haiti

Macdonald noted that during the summit, extra-regional problems garnered a good deal of the focus in Biden-Trudeau discussions, including the war in Ukraine and the potential for Canada to play a bigger role in Haiti.

“It seemed that Canada was responding to pressure from Biden to ramp up its commitments in those areas and addressing threats outside of the region,” she said.

Macdonald said she thought these international issues would continue to emerge when Biden visits Canada in March. Biden put forward the idea of Trudeau having Canada lead a United Nation mission to the island nation struggling under gang violence.

“The big issue might be Haiti. Trudeau, I think wisely said that Canada would be consulting with Haitians about what they thought would be helpful, and I doubt he’s going to get many Haitians to say that it would be really helpful to have Canada lead a new UN mission,” she said.

It’s now Canada’s turn to host the next North American Leaders’ Summit sometime next year.

James Baker & Cold War diplomacy

      Comments Off on James Baker & Cold War diplomacy

Master Negotiator: James A. Baker and the Hinge of History

Master Negotiator: The Role of James A. Baker, III at the End of the Cold War

By Diana Villiers Negroponte


Reviewed by Colin Robertson

Master Negotiator is a gem of a book by Diana Villiers Negroponte on the critical role of James A. Baker, III, in ending the Cold War during his almost four years as secretary of state in the administration of George H. W. Bush.

Unlike most western democracies, where foreign affairs are managed by professional diplomats, the American system relies to a much greater degree on its political class. They occupy most of the senior positions in the State Department as well as at their embassies. Negroponte’s book helps explain how this system works. Under the stewardship of Jim Baker, it had more successes than failures, especially in the critical area of arms control with the end of the Soviet Union.

Succinct but comprehensive, Master Negotiator is a meticulous, 360-page study. Based on interviews with most of the American principals of the period, with a deep dive into the archives, personal papers of the participants as well as French and German sources. It includes, for example the minutes of notes between senior American and Soviet leaders.

There are colourful vignettes, including the moment when Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev invites Baker and Ambassador Robert Strauss to drink, sweat, and soak bare naked in his personal sauna. As Nazarbayev whacks Baker on the back with bark twigs before plunging into the steam bath, Strauss, a fellow Texan, jokes to the security detail, “Get me the President on the phone! His Secretary of State is buck naked and he’s being beaten by the President of Kazakhstan.”

Diana Negroponte, a scholar on Latin America, is a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington and she dedicates the book to her husband, Ambassador John Negroponte. John Negroponte played an important supporting role during this period, having served President Reagan as Deputy National Security Advisor and then as US Ambassador to Mexico during the GHW Bush administration.

The 10 chapters in Master Negotiator address the key international issues: German reunification, China and Tiananmen Square, mobilizing international support during the Gulf War, the Arab-Israeli “distance”, arms control, and the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Surprisingly, the NAFTA negotiation in 1991-92 gets little attention, but as Negroponte concludes, Baker had more than enough on his plate and he was comfortable leaving the negotiations in the hands of the able US Trade Representative, Carla Hills.

The main focus of the book, appropriately, is on efforts to avoid disaster as the Soviet Union imploded. Negroponte points out that scholars still disagree on what caused its dissolution: Ronald Reagan’s SDI strategy; the stagnation of the Soviet economy and Mikhail Gorbachev’s radical domestic reforms; broad systemic changes including the diminishing conflict between capitalism and communism as nationalism, religions and the rights of people grew in importance. (Interestingly, the answer I heard most often during a recent trip to Eastern Europe as to what ended the Soviet Union was a variation of “Blue jeans, the mini skirt and rock ‘n roll.”)

This was the world that James Baker had to manage. Born in Houston, educated at Princeton and the University of Texas law school, he served in the Marines and rose to become a captain in the Reserve while practising law. His graduate thesis contrasted Ernest Bevin (union leader, British foreign secretary) and Aneurin Bevan (Welsh Labour Party leader, instrumental in founding of the National Health Service). Negroponte concludes that Baker preferred Bevin’s pragmatism but that the distinctions between the two men reflected the tension within Baker’s life and his preference for achieving his goals through purposeful and pragmatic steps.

A confidant and friend of George H. W. Bush, Baker served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, ran Bush’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1980 and then served Ronald Reagan as both Treasury Secretary — playing the role of “closer” in the final days of the Canada-US FTA negotiations — and chief of staff.

By the time he became secretary of state, Negroponte says, Baker was tough, determined and competitive “not only with foreign counterparts but also with colleagues on the home front.” He chose carefully which battles to fight and then focused every sinew to win. She approvingly quotes former Defense Secretary Bob Gates’s assessment of Baker as “a master craftsman of the persuasive and backroom arts at the peak of his powers.”

Baker needed all these talents. The results after four years were: pushing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, the launch of UN peace negotiations to help end civil wars in Central America, the reduction of the threat of nuclear war, the bringing together of the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Territories to meet face to face; freedom for East European nations; and the unification of Germany, anchored within NATO.

Why did Baker succeed?

First, he had the full confidence of his president. As Negroponte observes: “He was so close to the president that each could finish the other’s sentence.” Bush conferred with him every day and Baker wrote a nightly report that was “honest, if not blunt”, in keeping the president informed. Importantly, Bush, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and Baker kept their differences among themselves, resolving distinct approaches to policy through internal debate and achieving consensus before communicating a final decision.

Second, as Negroponte observes, Baker was a master negotiator, a pragmatic realist who also believed in concepts such as liberty, freedom and democracy. He pursued the traditional US policy of working with allies and international institutions to reassure them of US steadfastness while at the same time creating a firm basis upon which to negotiate with Moscow on arms control and regional issues. Baker’s goal was to establish the United States as a leader of democratic ideals and influence, a purpose that Bush named a “New World Order.” “A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle,” Bush said in an address to a joint session of Congress on September 11, 1990. “A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”

Bush and Baker confirmed the priority of good bilateral relations by making their first foreign trip as president and secretary to Ottawa in February, 1989. They met with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who had just seen Gorbachev, and discussed the general secretary’s likelihood of success in carrying out his reforms. Mulroney also understood the importance of relationships and, if anything, the Canada-US entente grew even closer, and Canada achieved its long-sought Acid Rain Accord.

Third, originally dismissive of the bureaucracy, Baker came to rely on and trust his State Department. He removed Reagan’s political appointees and rotated-in foreign service officers, preferring men and women who would think creatively to face the challenges of 1989 and beyond. Baker’s deputy, Lawrence Eagleburger, was a career foreign service officer, who would succeed him as secretary for the last two months of the Bush administration.

James Baker worked hard. When one avenue closed off, he found another. He was not a strategic thinker like Henry Kissinger, but he was deliberative, possessing a fine grasp of complex facts and a better sense of politics than Kissinger. Baker’s years in government gave him experience in foreign affairs. Focused and disciplined, he had also developed a superb global network of presidents, prime ministers, foreign and treasury ministers. He had no compunction about calling in chits. In Negroponte’s assessment, Baker was a man of action who pursued the logic of his decisions with determination and persistence

James Baker did not succeed on all he put his hand to – the Middle East remained intransigent. He left Yugoslavia to the Europeans, who promised to fix things, but Yugoslavia imploded. Post-Tiananmen China did not break the long-term US economic interests with the Peoples Republic but critics argue that human rights were left behind.

But in the one big thing — sorting out the dissolution of the Soviet Union and avoiding loose nukes — he succeeded. For a generation, we slept more comfortably.

Baker fits into that cohort that Walt Isaacson and Evan Thomas described as the American “wise men”. They took on the burden of first designing and then sustaining our rules-based multilateral system based on liberal principles of democracy and open markets. For those of us born after the Second World War, the rules-based order has given humanity relative peace and security unknown to previous generations.

While now fraying, that system owes much to American leadership, statecraft and diplomacy. Freedom of navigation is guaranteed by the US Navy and collective security is guaranteed by alliances, notably NATO, for which Americans still shoulder most of the burden. The US taxpayer also pays a heftier share in supporting the multilateral institutions – the UN and its alphabet soup of agencies, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and the World Trade Organization.

Driven by duty, devotion and patriotism, Americans like Baker aimed to make the world a better place. Others, including Canadians, helped engineer this remarkable experiment in global order, but the Americans were the architects.

As Negroponte demonstrates, James Baker proved to be a “master negotiator” in ensuring it endured with the end of the Cold War. We can only hope for more like Baker as we enter into a new epoch that, for now, is both messy and mean. 

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat, is a Fellow and Senior Adviser with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

Inflation Reduction Act and US Protectionism: International Trade Committee

      Comments Off on Inflation Reduction Act and US Protectionism: International Trade Committee

Remarks to the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade on the impacts on Canadian businesses resulting from the United States Inflation Reduction Act with a focus on sectors most impacted such as critical mineral extraction, auto-sector and electric vehicle auto-sector and clean technology and energy

Colin Robertson

Canadian Global Affairs Institute

December13, 2022


In the fall of 2005, I was leading our advocacy team at our Washington Embassy. Softwood lumber was a top priority. Our ambassador, Frank McKenna, asked me when our troubles over lumber began. I called the Librarian of Congress and a couple of days later, he said their research showed that timber merchants in northern Massachusetts – what is now Maine –  had successfully petitioned Congress during the second administration of George Washington to impose levies – tariffs – on New Brunswick timber sent to Boston to be used in shipbuilding.


The point of this story is to remind ourselves that Americans practising protectionism is as old as the Republic. And it will never change.


We are not usually the primary target of US trade actions. A lot in the Inflation Reduction Act is aimed at countering China.  But the deeply integrated nature of our trade means that we become collateral damage, as with the Trump administration’s steel and aluminium tariffs.


Trade policy is even more complicated because it now involves climate, human rights, labour and environmental provisions. And in the wake of the pandemic and the return of great power competition, national security is a dominant consideration. We must now secure and make resilient our supply chains through de-coupling, near-shoring and friend-shoring.


Security of supply now trumps comparative advantage.


We witness the return of national industrial policies, complete with incentives and subsidies, like those in the IRA.


For this reason, and this is my second point,  our advocacy efforts with the United States must be a permanent ongoing campaign reminding Americans that reciprocity in trade and investment continues to benefit both nations. 


The US is the market that matters most for all  business, especially for those we are encouraging like women and minorities.


Three-quarters of our exports –manufactured goods like auto parts or resources like lumber, oil and gas – go to the US. And with trade generating over sixty percent of our economy, access to the US matters.


For thirty or more states, their biggest market is Canada.  Our trade and investment generates nine million American jobs. Parsing this by state and by congressional and legislative district works because, just as all politics in the US is local, so too is trade.


Other witnesses have testified how a Team Canada effort helped us secure a level playing field for the production of electric vehicles. Our Ambassador, Embassy and consulates play a critical role. Having done this both in Washington and at consulates, our success also depends on a ‘Team Canada’ effort involving the prime minister, premiers, ministers, and members of parliament from all parties. All levels of government must be involved as well as business, labour and interest groups.


To level the playing field on US protectionism we pursue various avenues.


We will continue to protest their incentives on battery production as discriminatory and contrary to their CUSMA and WTO trade obligations arguing, as we did in the case of the EV tax credit, that we should approach this on a continental basis.


We will remind the US of our right to respond to discriminatory behaviour with trade sanctions. The threat of targeted sanctions helped persuade the US to lift the steel and aluminum tariffs. But imposing counter-tariffs is also imposing a tax on our own consumers.


As this committee knows, there is pressure to match the American subsidies with subsidies of our own. We have done this before, but the cost is borne by the taxpayer.


Alternatively, we could agree with the US on the use of incentives as we did recently on solar panels.


The ideal would be a continental industrial strategy, including Mexico.


Regardless, and this is my third point, we need to get our own act together by making the sectors that matter most to us as competitive as possible.


There is lots of useful research from business, government and think tanks to draw on. Two stand out:  ‘Restart, Recover, and Reimagine Prosperity for all Canadians’ prepared by Canada’s Industry Strategy Council and the Senate Prosperity Action Group report Rising to the Challenge of New Global Realities


To help implement and make practical their recommendations, we should reconstitute the sectoral advisory groups or SAGITs, that served us so well during the Canada-US FTA negotiations. Composed of business, labour, provincial government and civil society, they guided the negotiators with practical advice on what Canada needed, acting as sounding boards on what we could accept in negotiations.


To conclude: Advancing our interests with the US is a permanent campaign, requiring a Team Canada approach with a clear focus on our objectives.


Advocating for Canada’s Trade Interests is a Permanent Campaign

This article for Policy is adapted from Colin Robertson’s submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade of December 13, 2022. 

Colin Robertson

December 14, 2022

In the fall of 2005, I was leading our advocacy team at the Canadian embassy in Washington. Softwood lumber was a top priority. Our ambassador, Frank McKenna, asked me when our troubles over lumber began. I spoke to the librarian of Congress and, a couple of days later, he said their research showed that timber merchants in northern Massachusetts — what is now Maine — had successfully petitioned Congress during the second administration of George Washington to impose levies — tariffs — on New Brunswick timber sent to Boston to be used in shipbuilding.

More than two centuries on, we are still battling the US on softwood lumber. It is a reminder that American protectionism is as old as the Republic. And it will never change.

Canada is not usually the primary target of US trade actions. Like the CHIPS and ScienceAct, much of Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is aimed at countering China in the ongoing war for technological dominance that includes AI, quantum computing and semi-conductors. But the deeply integrated nature of our trade means that Canada becomes collateral damage when the US subsidizes domestic industry – as with the Electric Vehicles (EV) tax credits –  or takes punitive trade action, as was the case with the Trump administration’s steel and aluminium tariffs.

Trade negotiations are complicated. They now involve considerations around climate, human rights, labour and the environment. National security has become a transcendent consideration in the wake of the pandemic and the return of great power competition. We must now secure and make resilient our supply chains through de-coupling, near-shoring and friend-shoring. Security of supply now trumps the economics of comparative advantage.

One result of the changing trade environment is the return of national industrial policies, complete with incentives and subsidies, including those in the IRA.

In this changed environment, Canada needs to look to its interests. Our advocacy efforts with the United States must be a permanent ongoing campaign reminding Americans that reciprocity in trade and investment continues to benefit both nations.

Notwithstanding our necessary efforts at trade diversification, the US is the market that matters most for big, medium and small business, and to those just starting to trade, including enterprises owned by women and minorities.

Manufactured goods like auto parts or resources like lumber, oil and gas go to the US. And with trade generating over 60 percent of our economy, access to the US matters.

For 36 American states, their biggest market is Canada. Our trade and investment generates nine million American jobs. We can parse this by state and by congressional and legislative district. Do this we must, because just as all politics in the US is local, so too is trade.

A “Team Canada” effort helped us secure a level playing field for the production of electric vehicles (EVs). Our wider success also depends on a collective effort involving the prime minister, premiers, ministers, and MPs from all parties. All levels of government must be involved as well as business, labour and interest groups. Through their daily advocacy, our ambassador, embassy staff and consulates play a critical role.

To level the playing field on the IRA and its successors requires Canada to pursue various avenues.

We will continue to protest their incentives on battery production as discriminatory and contrary to their trade obligations under the CUSMA and WTO, arguing, as we did in the case of the EV tax credit, that we should approach this on a continental basis

We will remind the US of our right to respond to discriminatory behaviour with trade sanctions. The threat of targeted sanctions helped gain us relief from steel and aluminum tariffs. But we need to keep in mind that imposing tariffs is also imposing a tax on our own consumers.

There is pressure to match the American subsidies with subsidies of our own. We have done this before, but let’s not forget that the ultimate cost is borne by the taxpayer. The better alternative is to seek an agreement with the US on the use of incentives, as we did recently on solar panels. The ideal would be a continental industrial strategy, including Mexico, leveraging our various assets, that in Canada’s case include our critical minerals.

Regardless, Canada needs to get its act together starting with the identification of the sectors that matter most to us. Then we need to come up with plans to make them as competitive as possible. Again, this will require a Team Canada approach.

There is a great deal of useful research that we can draw on from business, government and think tanks. Two stand out: ‘Restart, Recover, and Reimagine Prosperity for all Canadians’ prepared by Canada’s Industry Strategy Council (October 2020) and the Senate Prosperity Action Group report, Rising to the Challenge of New Global Realities (July 2021).

For Industry Council chair Monique Laroux, the changing geo-politics means Canada must develop an industrial plan linked to an investment strategy that capitalizes on our “core strengths, and aim for the top of the podium in promising areas such as digital and data; resources, clean energy, and clean technology; innovative high-value manufacturing and agri-food.” The Senate report endorses this approach arguing for a comprehensive review of our tax system, regulatory reform to ensure transparency and timely approvals, free trade within Canada, and to increase global exports, outside of the USA, to 35 percent.

To help implement and make practical their recommendations, we should reconstitute the sectoral advisory groups on international trade, or SAGITs, that served us so well during the original Canada-US Free Trade negotiations.

Composed of business, labour, provincial government and civil society, they guided the negotiators with practical advice on what Canada needed and acted as a sounding board as to what we could accept in negotiations.

Working together, Canadians have been remarkably successful in advancing our trade and investment interests, beginning with the Canada-US FTA in 1988, the NAFTA in 1994 and, despite Donald Trump, its recent re-negotiation into the CUSMA (2020). At the same time, we are diversifying our markets through free trade with the EU (2017), through our Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific partnership (2018). And with the Indo-Pacific Strategy (2022) we are now looking to closer relations with India, Indonesia and ASEAN.

It has been 40 years since Canada upped its trade game beginning with the Review of Canadian Trade Policy that helped pave the road to the Canada-US FTA negotiations. What has not changed in advancing our trade interests, especially with the US, are the requirements to make it a Team Canada effort, to take the initiative with a clear focus on our objectives, and to remember that when dealing with the US, this is a permanent and never-ending campaign.

Contributing writer Colin Robertson, a Fellow and Senior Adviser at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa, is a former career diplomat who served Washington as well as New York and Los Angeles.  


Indo-Pacifac Strategy

      Comments Off on Indo-Pacifac Strategy

Plan to boost diplomatic footprint in Indo-Pacific scant on details for new demands on foreign service

With diplomatic capacity-building projects in Eastern Europe, Africa, and now in the Indo-Pacific, implementation will be a ‘challenge’ as recruitment will come under focus, say experts and former diplomats.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy on Nov. 27, which includes a pledge to bolster diplomatic capacity in the region.

With a pledge to boost its diplomatic capacity in the Indo-Pacific region as part of the government’s $2.3-billion strategy, Canada’s foreign service will be pulled in several directions as the government seeks to increase its diplomatic reach.

When revealing the strategy on Nov. 27, the government announced it would earmark $100-million over five years to boost capacity at Canadian embassies and high commissions abroad and back at headquarters in Ottawa. A new high commission was announced for Fiji, as well as a commitment to post a Canadian diplomat in Hawaii.

The Canadian government is still working to determine where new diplomats will be located in the Indo-Pacific region, according to a senior government offical

Prior to the strategy launch, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) said there would be 60 new diplomatic jobs in the region, according to the Canadian Press. The strategy doesn’t indicate a specific target for new diplomats in the Indo-Pacific.

The government had previously announced that $92.5-million will be included in the strategy to boost diplomatic capacity at home and in the region. Asked whether the $92.5-million is within the $100-million commitment or if the two are separate pledges, a spokesperson for Global Affairs said they represent the same funding announcement, but reflect a difference in accounting numbers. “For clarity and consistency,” the spokesperson said in an email, “we have we have adjusted the figures online to reflect cash accounting figures,” which is $100-million.

The strategy did note that the new positions will include “diplomacy, international security, trade and economic, international development, and climate issues.”

The nearly $2.3-billion strategy seeks to reorient Canada’s presence in the region, calling China an “increasingly disruptive global power.” The long-anticipated document was launched in Vancouver on Nov. 27 by Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly (Ahuntsic-Cartierville, Que.), International Trade Minister Mary Ng (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.), International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.), and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.).

Global Affairs, which has its headquarters in the Pearson Building, is in the midst of a review of its foreign service. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

“Resources are not unlimited,” said University of Toronto professor Janice Stein, who served as co-chair of the Indo-Pacific Advisory Committee. “I think there will be some shift of people and focus towards the Indo-Pacific.”

“I would be surprised if there were not a shift from Europe, and possibly the Middle East as well,” Stein told The Hill Times just prior to the release of the strategy. “That’s what it means when you make a region a region of priority, because you can’t do everything.”

Canada has also announced new missions and an increased diplomatic focus in Eastern Europe and Africa, which includes embassies and high commissions in Armenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia, as well as in Rwanda, and a permanent observer post to the African Union. The government has said it will further expand its presence in Africa.

Staffing the multitude of regions that the foreign service is being pulled towards will be a “challenge,” said former Canadian diplomat Guy Saint-Jacques.

“But it’s something that can be done and should have been done,” said Saint-Jacques, a former ambassador to China and a past director general for personnel management.

He said Canada hasn’t devoted sufficient attention to recruitment over the last 10 to 15 years.

Without a significant emphasis on recruitment, Saint-Jacques said the staffing capacity of the department has “eroded” and “weakened.”

“It is time now to build this back,” he said, noting that to attract people, those with specialized areas need to be rewarded.

He said recruiting for the new positions will be a “huge effort,” and that increasing diplomatic capacity in the region is the “right approach.”

“We have to know China better, because they won’t go away. We have to understand what makes them tick and how they function,” he said.

He remarked that one of the challenges will involve foreign-language training, as diplomats are far more efficient when they speak the local language.

A recent report from Canadian diplomat Ulric Shannon, written while on leave from Global Affairs, found that foreign language compliance is at 23 per cent, which dips to 18 per cent at the executive level.

The report also detailed the work that the department has done since 2021 to create increased capacity on China, especially with political and regional analysis. Mandarin compliance in the department was 14 per cent.

As part of the strategy, the government announced that a special envoy position will be created to co-ordinate Ottawa’s approach in the Indo-Pacific.

Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) president Pamela Isfeld said details are still needed about new diplomatic positions and how capacity can be increased.

“If this happens, this is great. It’s great for the foreign service in terms of really getting people out there and using them,” she said. “But I’m not quite sure that the rubber meets the road, and that’s always where the problem comes iShe said increased diplomatic jobs and opportunities are always a positive, but there is a question of whether the foreign service has the right people to staff the added roles.

“You shouldn’t be sending somebody off to Armenia the same way you would send someone off to Houston,” she said, noting that language and local knowledge is required.

Global Affairs is in the middle of a review of its foreign service to ensure that it has the personnel it needs to perform required duties, as well as technological and digital abilities, and to examine its global presence. The Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is also undergoing a review of the machinery of Canada’s foreign service.

Canada is an outlier among its allies when it comes to the high concentration of diplomats Global Affairs has stationed at its headquarters opposed to abroad. Only around 18 per cent of Canadian diplomats are posted abroad.

Past Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the government has made a “compelling case” that the Indo-Pacific is becoming increasingly important to Canada and there is a need for more people on the ground.

He said there is a question of what those people on the ground will be doing.

“Is it defence, security, intelligence, trade promotion, agriculture?” he asked. “The devil will be in the details, but at least the intent is there and now the test will be for senior civil servants to implement this.”

He said there is a need for more people in the foreign service overall, not just transitioning people from another region to the Indo-Pacific.

Robertson said the expansion of diplomatic capacity in several regions around the globe will be a challenge for the department.

“It means we should be recruiting now, because all of this takes a couple of years before we can get anyone in the field on a first assignment,” he said.

“We need to grow our foreign service,” he said, remarking that there is also a need to grow capacity on the defence and security side, as well.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously announced that there would be 60 new diplomatic jobs as part of the Indo-Pacific strategy, but when the document was released it was left undefined. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Former Canadian ambassador to Vietnam Deanna Horton said Canada has a built-in advantage in boosting its diplomatic capacity in the region, remarking that the government has yet to capitalize on the large number of Canadians in Asia, and the extensive Canadian university alumni networks in the region and their knowledge of local economies and cultures.

“The government should be taking the resources that are already there—in terms of knowledge of cultures and local economies—[and] leveraging what we already have, which has not been a focus up until now, but I think people realize that is important,” she said.

Randolph Mank, who was a Canadian ambassador to Indonesia, Pakistan, and Malaysia, said it is the nature of government officials to want more people, but the question is how they will be best deployed.

“It’s not automatic that more people leads to greater results, but it certainly can help,” he said, adding that more needs to be done in Southeast Asia.

“Southeast Asia is not free of challenges, but you’ve got some big markets,” he said.

Mank said officials need to be deployed in a way by which their work can match that of the business community and civil society in those regions.

In the strategy, the government also announced $31.8-million over five years for the opening of the first Agriculture and Agri-Food office in the region, as well as $45-million over five years for “large-scale” trade missions. Ottawa will also appoint an Indo-Pacific trade representative.

Sustained engagement a key to strategy’s success: experts

According to a background document, the $100-million Indo-Pacific regional capacity uplift project will help to “ensure that Canada has the capacity to co-ordinate sustained engagement,” as well as “seize emerging opportunities” and “quickly and efficiently respond to regional developments and challenges.”

Just prior to the release of the strategy, Indo-Pacific experts and former diplomats said sustained engagement in the region where Canada has had an inconsistent footprint will be vital for its success.

“We are considered as being inconstant in terms of our attention. We get enthusiastic for a period and then they don’t see much of us for years,” said Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada president Jeff Nankivell, a former Canadian diplomat who was consul general in Hong Kong and deputy head of mission to China.

“That’s what you hear from leaders in the region in Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia. They will say, ‘Canada has come and gone over the years. We don’t see a sustained commitment,’” he said. “That’s the challenge that Canada has to address.”

The strategy earmarked $24.5-million over five years for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada to open a “physical presence” in the Indo-Pacific region, which Nankivell said will be in Singapore.

Stein said Canada has been engaged in the region in an “erratic way” in the past.

“In the Indo-Pacific, that just doesn’t work. It’s not about coming; it’s about staying and engaging in a very sustained way,” she said, adding that Canada will have to earn trust in the region.

“It’s pretty clear about how you earn it. You come, you stay, you engage, and you stay and engage over the long term,” Stein added.

Halffax Security Forum 2022

      Comments Off on Halffax Security Forum 2022

The Halifax Security Forum’s Window on the World

Anita Anand addressing the HISF on Nov 20/Anita Anand Twitter

Colin Robertson

November 25, 2022

If last year’s Halifax Security Forum was preoccupied by the US withdrawal and Taliban re-taking of Afghanistan and the threat of a rising China, this year’s was largely focused on Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Forum Founding President Peter van Praagh set the tone, underlining that the “tenacious bravery, defiance, and courage displayed by the Ukrainian people in the face of Russian aggression provides a renewed sense of purpose for defenders of democracy worldwide.” In contrast to Afghanistan’s Asraf Ghani, who fled the country as the Taliban approached, Volodymyr Zelensky quipped that he needed arms, not a ride out.

In his taped remarks to HISF, Zelensky reiterated the 10-point plan he presented to G20 leaders earlier in the week asking for a continued flow of arms as well as food and energy support, the release of prisoners of war and deportees, the implementation of the relevant UN Charter protections and the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. “For peace to exist” argued Zelensky, “we must make all elements of Russian aggression impossible.” What impressed those of us at the forum was the Ukrainians’ determination to win despite the awful destruction and atrocities wrought by Putin.

recent report by the German Marshall Fund assessed the cost of rebuilding damaged Ukrainian infrastructure at more than $US 100 billion, a manageable sum for donors when spread out over yearsCritical to rebuilding will be a plan to improve Ukraine’s governance, increase transparency and curb corruption.

At last year’s HISF, weeks into the job, Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand identified her three objectives as “First, cultural change in the Canadian Armed Forces; second, equipping our military; and, third, peace and stability at home and abroad.” This prioritization puzzled the Europeans and unsettled the Americans for its lack of any reference to increasing Canada’s NATO contribution. More trenchant (and controversial) criticism came earlier this month from Vimy Foundation Awardee Lt.-Gen. Michel Maisonneuve who said “Today, I see a military woefully underfunded, undermanned and under-appreciated.”

American leadership consistently encourages Canada to spend more on defence and this message was repeated by this year’s congressional delegation. NATO leaders agreed in 2014 to achieve a two percent defence spending target by 2024. The latest NATO figures (June 2022) put Canada at 1.27 percent, the US at 3.27 percent, the UK at 2.12 percent, France at 1.9 percent and Germany at 1.44 percent. When Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire was asked at HISF about Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s chances of becoming the next NATO Secretary General, she responded by asking about Canada’s defence spending. Shaheen made her point.

This year, Anand focussed on defence and deterrence. “No matter how you look at it, our world is growing darker” Anand declared, adding that “emboldened authoritarian regimes are openly challenging the international order in pursuit of their own reckless agenda.” Announcing that Canada wants to situate NATO’s Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic in Halifax, she said the West faces a choice: “Do we let the hard-fought gains of the past 80 years slip away and return to a world where might makes right or do liberal democracies stand together to preserve the longest stretch of progress, cooperation and freedom the world has ever known?”

Her US counterpart, Defense Secretary (and retired Army general) Lloyd Austin, making his first trip to Canada, remarked that “Ukraine matters” because “first principles are that countries don’t get to invade their peaceful neighbors. Autocrats don’t get to redraw borders by force. And the imperial ambition of bullies doesn’t outweigh the sovereign rights of UN member states.” Austin also warned that other autocrats are watching Putin and if he succeeds, they will think that “Getting nuclear weapons would give them a hunting licence of their own. And that could drive a dangerous spiral of nuclear proliferation.” Asserting that “the Indo-Pacific is key to an open, secure, and prosperous world,” Austin said the “pacing challenge is an increasingly assertive China—a China that’s trying to refashion both the region and the international system to suit its authoritarian preferences.”

Established in 2009 at the inspiration of van Praagh and then-Defence Minister Peter MacKay, HISF is a two-day conference for 300 mostly security and defence experts, former presidents, prime ministers, ministers and legislators, senior military officers, civil society and media. Originally trans-Atlantic in orientation, HISF identified itself as a security conference for democracies and those aspiring to democracy globally. In terms of conference quality and participation it ranks with the Munich Security Conference and the International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-la Dialogue.

HISF is a good place to take the pulse of current threats and to gauge the mood of Washington – in recent years it has been all about Trump – and to cross-check them with the trans-Atlantic and, increasingly, trans-Pacific participants.

Last year, in the wake of the retreat from Afghanistan, the Europeans asked “Is the US really back?” President Joe Biden’s leadership on Ukraine and his team’s continuing efforts to reinvigorate multilateralism at the NATO Madrid summit and within the G7 and NATO, as well as in the Quad and AUKUS, have put the debacle of Afghanistan behind him.

On Ukraine, the delegation echoed Secretary Austin’s warning that stopping Putin is not just about Ukraine but sending a message of western solidarity to adversaries such as China who would like to upend the international order

There was also a palpable relief, especially from the Europeans, that the “red wave” had not materialized in the midterms and, for now, the malignancy of Donald Trump’s assault on the democratic-led world order has faded. But concerns about the health of American democracy remain.

The presence of a bipartisan US congressional delegation along with a strong American government and policy community presence gives HISF participants a sense of current thinking in the capital 1,000 miles or 1,700 km to the south. With the midterm results almost complete by this year’s opening day, the US delegation was anxious to underline the success of the election process, or as Democratic Rep. Jason Crow (Colorado 6th) put it, the election showed “an element of self-correction, a swing back towards moderation, towards good governance.” He added: “The world saw it, and it was a relief.”

But that doesn’t change the politics. Republican Rep. Mike McCaul (Texas 10th) expects to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee when the GOP assumes the House majority in January. McCaul has promised investigations into Hunter Biden’s Ukraine activities as well as into the Afghan withdrawal debacle. But on Ukraine, the delegation echoed Secretary Austin’s warning that stopping Putin is not just about Ukraine but sending a message of western solidarity to adversaries such as China who would like to upend the international order.

The congressional presence at HISF gives Canadian participants an ideal opportunity to advance Canadian objectives. And defend them we must as New York’s Democrat Senator Gillibrand reminded us when she said for her near-shoring means jobs in the USA not in other countries. While her colleagues stressed ‘friend-shoring’ with allies, Gillebrand is reflective of a protectionism that is as old as the Republic.

In addition to Anand and several members of Parliament, Canadian officials included National Security Advisor Jody Thomas, Chief of Defence Staff General Wayne Eyre, Navy  Commander Vice Admiral Angus Topshee, Canada’s Ambassador in Washington, Kirsten Hillman, and Ambassador for Women, Peace and Security, Jacqui O’Neill.

A splendid HISF initiative — marking its fifth anniversary this year — is the Peace with Women in Security Program that brings together a dozen women officers on the cusp of flag rank for a three-week orientation that takes them from Washington to Silicon Valley to Ottawa and then to Halifax, and in recent years to Brussels and other NATO capitals. Talk with the participants and it is clear that PwW is helping advance the role of women in our armed services.

Many Canadians will recall that, until his death, the late American Senator John McCain led the HISF “CODEL” and there is now an annual award in his name to those who fight for liberty, presented by his widow, Cindy McCain, currently serving as US ambassador to the UN food and Agriculture agencies in Rome. This year, Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska accepted on behalf of the women of Ukraine.

On terrorism — the dominant theme during the forum’s early years, the sense is that while requiring constant vigilance, it is a tactical issue better addressed not by the military but by intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

HISF also commissions an annual foreign policy survey of more than 32,000 people across 33 countries. Almost three in four (for Canada the figure is 76 percent) agree we could see a worldwide conflict like last century’s major military confrontations. Those saying China will have a positive influence on world affairs dropped from 53 percent in 2019 and today stands at 42 percent. Most (85 percent — for Canada as well ) respondents to a global poll say that the world needs new international agreements and institutions that should be led by the democracies.  Two in three want their government to spend more on their military’s power — an increase of 13 percentage points from last year.

Indeed, with Russia’s military build-up in the Arctic and China’s polar strategy, there was support at HISF for NATO to develop an Arctic strategy (most nations have strategies; Canada has a “framework” in development). When it comes to burden-sharing the Americans are clear: Canada needs to act on its promise to make NORAD renewal a reality. For them, this means a permanent military presence, including bases and an enhanced sea, air and space presence.

On terrorism — the dominant theme during the forum’s early years, the sense is that while requiring constant vigilance, it is a tactical issue better addressed not by the military but by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. While understandable, the catalytic reaction to 9/11and the subsequent War on Terror likely unduly escalated this threat.

On China, the US may be polarized politically, but the congressional delegation said there is no divide when it comes to the China threat. Based on ongoing conversations with Taiwanese officials, including at Halifax, they see the Chinese threat as fundamentally a political challenge rather than a military issue. Does the CCP leadership, or more to the point, the for-now unassailable Xi Jinping, see the window of opportunity on Taiwan closing? If so, then a military option is possible.

As to other threats, the new battlegrounds of cyberspace and actual space require ongoing attention. Mutually assured destruction of satellite capabilities threatens not just military tactics that the world’s great powers adopt, but our daily dependence on connections increasingly provided by satellites. It’s a vital field in which Canada has expertise and history, if we are prepared to invest in it.

This year’s HISF Builder Award went to Russian dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza who participated in last year’s forum. Now imprisoned by Putin, Kara-Murza asked Peter MacKay to read his remarks:

“Such are the times – again – in Russia when the truth is considered a criminal offence. But if the choice is between imprisonment and silent complicity, then there really isn’t any choice after all…a Europe whole and free will only become possible with a democratic Russia as part of it. Even in this darkest hour, I firmly believe that time will come – and, with strategic and principled global leadership in defence of the democratic order, we can all bring that time a little closer.”

The rival political systems are in competition as to which better delivers social stability, shared prosperity and innovation. Canadians know which side they are on and increasingly so does our leadership, or at least some of it. As Chrystia Freeland recently observed, “Liberal democracy worldwide has today declined back to 1989 levels, and autocracies have been making a comeback.”

So, it’s game on. In this new not-so-twilight struggle, we need to engage and invest in defence and security as well as diplomacy and statecraft.

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat is a Senior Fellow at the Global Affairs Institute of Canada, based in Ottawa.

China and Taiwan House of Commons China Committee

      Comments Off on China and Taiwan House of Commons China Committee

Remarks to the Special Committee on the Canada–People’s Republic of China Relationship (CACN)

November 15, 2022

Colin Robertson

Senior Advisor and Fellow

Canadian Global Affairs Institute

The Committee hearing can be viewed here. 



I made my first visit to Taiwan in the spring of 1988, six months after being posted as Consul to the British Crown colony of Hong Kong. Hong Kong was China’s entrepot to the world and our best entrée into the rest of Asia. It was also home to an expatriate population of Canadians that after the Tiananmen Square massacre, when Hong Kongers flocked to Canada, is now the largest in Asia.


I was also accredited to China. Every four months I would travel north by rail to Guangzhou to attend to our consular cases while reporting on the economic developments in China. I watched the transformation of Shenzhen from bucolic rice paddies and water buffalos to a booming frontier town of bamboo scaffolding and raucous growth. Today Shenzhen is China’s Silicon Valley, home to its tech champion, Huawei.


I had already visited Beijing, cloaked in coal smoke, with its hutongs and bicycles. My visit to Taipei, with its bicycles, coal smoke and hutongs, reminded me very much of Beijing. The people were ethnically the same – Han Chinese – but they had backed the wrong side in the civil war. The Republic of China’s Kuomintang party and the People’s Republic of China’s Chinese Communist Party ruled in much the same autocratic fashion.


For the West, the iconic Asian leader of the time was Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew. Lee argued that the ‘Asian Way’, or at least the Chinese way, was a benevolent but autocratic government that accorded no priority to human rights. It seemed a fair assessment even though it did not align with the UN Charter and the commitment by all member nations to human rights.


Fast forward to 2019 when I returned to Taiwan. Months earlier, I had visited Shanghai and Beijing – now modern and bustling cities. Taipei had kept pace.


But there was one fundamental difference.


As we drove into the city we passed Taipei’s ‘White House’, the home of President Madame Tsai Ing-wen There was a demonstration. What was it about I asked? It was in support of freedom of the press. An oligarch with ties to China wanted to buy a local newspaper, something the public opposed. For them it was part of the long-running PRC disinformation and cyber campaign designed to disrupt Taiwanese democracy.


Taiwan has become a vibrant and lively democracy with peaceful transitions between parties, a free press, independent judiciary, a competent and arguably, the most uncorrupt civil service in Asia. In its annual assessment of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom House scores Taiwan with 94 out of a hundred. (Canada scores 98, the US gets 83. China is ranked at 9).


I had dinner with their Digital Affairs Minister, Audrey Tang. Tang is transgender. Taiwan was one of the first Asian nations to recognize LGBTQ rights.


Applied technology, notably semiconductors – Tang began, is the means by which Taiwan leapt into the ranks of developed nations. Yes, she told me, China is relentless in its campaign to destabilize and intimidate the Taiwanese through disinformation, cyberwarfare and intrusions into its airspace. But the Taiwanese people will defend their democracy. They rely on the US and wish the we in the West were less cowed by China


I’ll conclude with an observation and three recommendations:


My observation: Taiwan belies the CCP belief that Chinese and Asian people prefer and do best under autocracy. In that sense, Taiwan undermines the foundational belief and thus the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. For Xi Jinping, Taiwan is the heretic state. Xi is determined to reunify Taiwan with the mainland, by force if necessary. Vladimir Putin feels the same about Ukraine.


As to recommendations:


First, Now that the CCP has snuffed out the liberties guaranteed by UN sanctioned agreements to grow representative government in Hong Kong, Taiwan is the best place in the Indo-Pacific, to monitor the mainland. Taiwan’s think tanks and intelligence about China are without peer. With China a hotbed for pandemics but inclined to cover-up, Taiwan’s proximity gives us early warning.


Second, we should do more to support Taiwan through trade and investment and people-to-people ties. Let’s market Canadian schools and universities and promote Canada as a destination for tourism and immigration. This committee should officially visit Taiwan. We need to resume ministerial visits based on shared interests like trade, innovation, health, and regional security. The last minister to visit was then Industry Minister John Manley in 1998. We should also support Taiwan’s legitimate aspirations to join institutions like the CPTPPWHO and the Montreal-based ICAO.


Third, China is actively challenging our rules-based order and, as we know, covertly attempting to disrupt democratic governments. I applaud this committee’s discussion of Chinese disinformation and cyber-intrusions including intellectual property theft and attacks on critical infrastructure. But what about allegations of money-launderingsecret police, co-opting officials, and campaign funding for parliamentary cantidates?


We must stay engaged with the PRC for reasons of geo-politics – climate change, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation – as well as trade and our people-to-people ties. But we must re-examine our policy on Chinese state-owned enterprises. And we need to add teeth – sanctions – to the Declaration on Arbitrary Detention to deter further Chinese hostage-taking.


Down the Danube

      Comments Off on Down the Danube

Policy Dispatches: Meeting History — Past and Present — Along the Danube

With tour guide Mihai outside the former Communist Party HQ in Bucharest’s Piata Revolutiei/photo Maureen Boyd 


Colin Robertson

November 8, 2022

Delayed by the travel constraints imposed by the pandemic, my wife, Maureen, and I finally embarked on our voyage along the Danube — three years later than planned and at a time when Europe is once again embroiled in a ground war.

The Danube is not Europe’s longest river; that’s the Volga. Nor does it carry the commercial traffic of the Rhine. But when it comes to the popular imagination, the Danube is to Europe what the Nile is to Egypt and the Mississippi is to America; a physical feature of the landscape whose place in the culture is amplified by a thousand songs and stories. For my mother, New Year’s Eve was not complete without the concert from Vienna that always featured Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz.

Three thousand kilometres long, it flows through 10 countries, including four European capitals — more capitals than any other river in the world. Its basin covers 20 percent of European Union territory, containing around 115 million people. We travelled 900 miles aboard the Avalon Waterways 164-passenger Passion. We boarded in Bucharest, cruising east toward the Romanian port of Constanta on the Black Sea, before returning upriver through Romania with stops in Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Hungary.

We left the ship in Budapest, where it later continued its voyage into Austria and then to the source of the Danube at the confluence of the Brigach and Breg headstreams near Donaueschingen, Germany.

While the right combination of location, company and craft, traveling by ship is remarkably agreeable. No fuss about packing and repacking or changing hotels. Docking within walking distance of the historic heart of these port cities is another major attraction — no parking worries, someone else does all the navigating and the guides were capable and well-informed.

One guide told us that his grandmother lived in four different countries in her lifetime — all at the same address. Others were not so lucky, and flight from war and oppression have produced cycles of major displacement.

While there is no universal agreement on which countries are included in the toponymic label “the Balkans” — broadly defined in geographical terms by Eastern Europe’s Balkan Peninsula — the list usually includes Romania, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Slovenia, Serbia, Kosovo and Croatia. Historically, it is where Occident met Orient for trade and commerce. It’s where empires clashed — Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Romanov, Hapsburg — earning it the title “Powder Keg of Europe”. In the last century, it suffered first Nazi then Soviet invasion and occupation, followed by more than a decade of war and ethnic cleansing across the former Yugoslavia through the 1990s.

Throughout the region’s history, boundaries were constantly redrawn without much regard for concentrations of race, religion or ethnicity. One guide told us that his grandmother lived in four different countries in her lifetime — all at the same address. Others were not so lucky, and flight from war and oppression have produced cycles of major displacement. The result is a hodgepodge of languages, alphabets and nomenclature — concentrated into a geographical space the size of Alberta but with a population of around 60 million.

By Canadian standards, the geography of the Balkan states may be small but their nationalism, history, myths, animosities — all wound into their traditions and distinctions, including religion — still matter profoundly. Often, those divisions have been delineated in blood.

They still register in daily life, including by omission. We remembered skiing at Whistler, where name tags of lift attendants and other staff indicate their country of origin, yet our cruise staff wore only name tags. We asked our Serbian captain — a 34-year-old Roger Federer look-alike — why the multinational Balkan crew did not include their home countries. “I’m trying to create a team. We have too much divergent history…like the EU, we now need to work together.”

Crossing borders was easy, with the exception of Viktor Orban’s increasingly “illiberal” Hungary. The zealous passport officials obliged the 42-member crew and all 82 passengers to show their faces at 6:30 a.m. We had no idea there was such variation in sleepwear.

Our voyage up the Danube gave us a riverside view of the CANDU reactors in Cernavoda, Romania that were originally installed beginning in 1982. Two of the five are still operating and generate 20 percent of Romania’s electricity. It’s a technology that Canadians once led and should again, given Europeans urgent requirement for carbon-free energy.

While touring Bucharest — still aspiring but not yet quite fulfilling its ambition to be the “Paris of the Balkans” — I asked our guide what he thought of communism. Mihai, sporting a name tag ringed with a Romanian flag-inspired red, yellow and blue ribbon and a pork barrel hat that made him look like Elmer Fudd, replied “bad times”. In a nod to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, he continued, “We were all equal but some were more equal than others.” What decided the end of the Cold War? Mihai said it was simple: “Blue jeans, the mini skirt and rock and roll.” A week later, in response to the same question, I got a similar reply from Vicki, our Hungarian guide: “Blue jeans, books and Coca-Cola.” Communism could not compete.

Buying his first vinyl — a second-hand Pink Floyd — on the black market in 1989 was a memorable moment for the 18 year-old Mihai, then serving as a paratrooper during Romania’s December Revolution. Viorica, our guide in Belgrade, preferred Jim Morrison and the Doors. She agreed that what convinced her generation that communism did not work was American culture and the portrayal in American popular films of the cornucopia of choice offered in American supermarkets and department stores.

It took me back to my time as Consul General in Los Angeles and an exhibition called Western Films Through Polish Eyes at the Gene Autry Museum of the American West. Who would have guessed that the poster of the 1952 High Noon — my favourite western — would be appropriated by the pro-democracy Polish workers movement and political force Solidarity in 1989 (above) as the nation faced its first election in 40 years? As the visiting Solidarity leader and first elected president of post-Soviet Poland Lech Walesa later told me, what’s not to like about Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper), facing down the vengeful Miller gang when everyone else in town had opted for appeasement?

The end of communism across the Balkans was mostly peaceful but Romania’s revolution was not a velvet one. More than a thousand people were killed before — after a perfunctory trial — dictator Nicolae Ceauçsescu and his wife, Elena, were publicly executed on Christmas Day in 1989. Before that indelible end to Romania’s dictatorship, our guide Mihai’s brother was nearly killed by friendly fire when dispatched to the nine-story underground shelter for the nomenklatura. In a fog-of-war episode, Securitate secret police were firing on Romanian troops. Each side thought the other were terrorists. There were no terrorists, just frightened young men led by equally frightened old men. Mihai’s brother is now an architect but keeps his helmet with the bullet crease as a reminder of how close he came to death.


The police-state side of life in the Soviet satellites is graphically portrayed in Budapest’s House of Terror Museum (above). During Nazi times, it was the home of the secret police. When the Soviets conquered the city in 1945, many just changed their uniforms, learning new terror tactics from new masters.

With Marxist-Leninism swept into history’s dustbin, religion — Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim — re-emerged in the Balkans. Our guide in Belgrade shared the tale of the city’s late archbishop, who asked who owned all the Range Rovers, Mercedes and Lexuses waiting outside a conference of bishops. “Why, the bishops!” replied his acolyte. The archbishop, a humble man who repaired his own shoes, quipped, “Just think what they’d be driving if they had not taken a vow of poverty.”

Under communism, Tito had stilled Yugoslavia’s Orthodox, Muslim and Catholic tensions through authoritarian control but, as with tyrants elsewhere, history filled the vacuum of his passing. Of course, religion played its part in the horror that consumed the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s under the brutal rule of Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević. The genocide Milošević committed against first Bosnian, then Kosovar Muslims was a catalyst for the creation of the International Criminal Court in July 2002 and the adoption, in September 2005, of the United Nations Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle. Canada played an instrumental role in both initiatives.

In the wake of the bloodbaths of the 1990s rationalized by religion and ethnicity, the nations of the former Yugoslavia have sorted themselves into religious and ethnic enclaves: Croatia and Slovenia majority Catholic, Serbia majority Orthodox, Kosovo majority Muslim, with splits in North Macedonia as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In a part of the world famous for long memories, the most recent war remains fresh in the minds of people. In Ilok, we visited a winery dating back to the Romans where, in October 1991, Croatian vintners used bricks from medieval times (adding mold as camouflage) to hide their archival wines, including some served at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, from marauding Serb forces.

Our Croat guide, who worked for the BBC’s Martin Bell during the war, told us that she still never takes a bath as it took so long to jump out and run to the shelters whenever Serbian bombs began falling. We visited Vukovar, once home to a Bata shoe factory employing 22,000 before the war. Now it employs 800. Like the rest of the Balkans, the Croat population is declining as a result of aging and migration, with many of their youth going to Ireland, in part because the landscape and sociability remind them of home. The Irish welcome their talents and, as in the rest of the Balkans, English is now the second language of young Croatians.

English is also the language of our Danube vessel. Unlike with air travel, where ICAO has made English the working language, the Danube Commission in 1954 set theirs as German, Russian and French. Our Serbian captain told us that an EU study found the cause of most accidents on the Rhine and Danube was confusion over language. So, he and the crew use English, a practice he says all river traffic should adopt.

Our guides, unprompted, repeatedly said, ‘Thanks be to God for NATO’. Exercises on the Danube based on the enhanced NATO presence obliged our ship to get to Budapest a day earlier than scheduled. The one question on which everyone we met agreed: nobody wants a return of Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe.

Europe’s latest deadly conflict — the ongoing war started by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of democratic Ukraine in February — has affected trade and commerce. In Constanta, Romania’s port on the Black Sea, the waterway is busy with barges carrying diverted Ukrainian grain and fertilizer that is loaded into ships sailing through the Dardanelles into the Mediterranean.

The Balkans have always had to balance between the great powers and they still do. But collectively and individually, the people we met are glad to be in the West. Our guides, unprompted, repeatedly said, “Thanks be to God for NATO”. Exercises on the Danube based on the enhanced NATO presence obliged our ship to get to Budapest a day earlier than scheduled. The one question on which everyone we met agreed: nobody wants a return of Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe.

Walking along a street in Budapest, we happened on the open-air exhibition Hope and Tragedy: Hungary ’56 a display of recently discovered photographs from the brave 1956 Uprising against the country’s Soviet-imposed Stalinist government. The Hungarians we met had all seen it and spoke of the Uprising as though it were yesterday. Canada took in almost 38,000 refugees at the time, including some who became distinguished Canadian diplomats.

The Ukraine war has brought both rich and poor Ukrainian refugees to Bucharest, Belgrade and Budapest. There are also recently arrived young Russian men avoiding Putin’s draft. The rich drive their Mercedes and BMWs and have pushed up the rates for luxury flats. The poor have had a similar effect on housing. In Romania, our guide told us the EU pays 15 Euros a day to house the dispossessed Ukrainians, to the disgruntlement of local students searching for cheap housing but, as our various guides pointed out, many of the Ukrainians have since gone home.

It had been nearly 50 years since I’d last back-packed as a student through what was then Yugoslavia. What struck me then was its friendliness and ethnic and religious diversity. The old ladies on the train from Zagreb who fed me and shared their wine. The Muslim boy in Sarajevo who gave me abode for the night – his father was a judge – and then hiking with his redheaded Orthodox girlfriend. The Catholic doctor who took me with his young family to Dubrovnik and its splendid beaches.

That harmony was disrupted by the commodified hatreds of Milošević’s rampage of power consolidation. The ravages, losses and lasting effects of that period are, for most people we met, still a firsthand experience. One legacy of the war is a cautious reserve and wariness about active politics. But disengagement from civic life is not necessarily a good thing. Democracy is still nascent in the Balkans. Elections alone do not a democracy make. The Balkans should be a priority for Canada’s promised ‘protecting democracy’ initiative.

Winston Churchill is said to have observed that the Balkans produce more history than they can consume. While other places, including nearby Russia and Ukraine, have been producing much of the history recently, the essence of that observation remains true.

Hungarians, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, and Bulgarians — the Balkan people along our Danube route — all bear generational animosities over ancient grudges and modern grievances that lurk beneath the otherwise sophisticated exteriors of all, including millennials. Few conversations last longer than five minutes without a mention of war, past or present. Their history, geography and demography are such that hard power will always matter. NATO provides for their collective security but in the ongoing contest for hearts and minds, we also need soft power, statecraft and diplomacy.

Contributing Writer Colin Robertson, a former career diplomat, is Senior Advisor and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute in Ottawa.

Seven Months after Ukraine Invasion

      Comments Off on Seven Months after Ukraine Invasion

The Defining Moment of Ukraine—Values vs. Interests, Democracy vs. Autocracy

POLICY MAGAZINE Colin Robertson September 20, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks the end of the post-Cold War period. Coming on the heels of the pandemic and the pressing urgency for action on climate change, inequalities within and between nations are exacerbated and key multilateral institutions like the UN Security Council and World Health Organization have proved inadequate to the challenges.

In setting the stage for this week’s 77th General  Assembly, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke of a “world blighted by war, battered by climate chaos, scarred by hate, and shamed by poverty, hunger, and inequality”. With “geostrategic divides …the widest they have been since at least the Cold War” he warned that the “solidarity envisioned in the United Nations Charter is being devoured by the acids of nationalism and self-interest.”.

As the war in Ukraine moves into its seventh month, with no prospect of a cease-fire, we can draw some tentative observations:

First, the war demonstrates that Washington remains the ultimate guarantor of European security, providing the bulk of both boots on the ground and the necessary armaments to deter and defend. By a wide margin, the US is the biggest supplier of arms and money to Ukraine.

The European Union, for all its ambitions, has failed to achieve its own strategic autonomy. The post-modern period in European security, when economic and soft power provided it with political leverage, proved inadequate. European leaders had at least 16 years, starting from the first complete cut-off in Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine in winter 2006, to diversify gas supplies. They ignored the risks and increased their energy dependence on Russia. Despite their efforts, they are still transferring huge amounts of money for Russian energy. According to CNN, the European Union accounted for around 70 percent of Russia’s fossil fuel export revenues globally, which amounted to US $66.3 billion in March and April of this year.

Despite best efforts, notably by the French, Germans and others, including Canada, during the Trump administration, an Alliance for Multilateralism does not work without the US. Ivo Daalder and Jim Lindsay got it right in titling their book The Empty Throne about the US abdication of global leadership under Donald Trump. They argued, persuasively, that the three US-championed pillars of the postwar order — strong alliances, open markets, with commitments to democracy and human rights — were undermined under a once, and perhaps future, President Trump.

From now on, hard security, both military and economic, needs to be the priority. NATO, once derided by French President Emmanuel Macron as “brain dead” is now the most important organization on the European continent. With its new Strategic Concept designating Russia as the most ‘direct threat’ to the Alliance and labeling China as ‘systemic challenge’ to its ‘interests, security and values’, NATO will also coordinate more closely with Asian partners. If Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s August trip to the Canadian North is indicative, in Arctic security as well. China calls itself a “near-Arctic state” and wants to expand its access.

For Canadians and Europeans — especially the Germans — it means relearning the language of hard power. It is the language China and Russia understand best and they complement it with cyber-intrusions, misinformation and disinformation, and interventions in the democratic process.

The aggregate military expenditure of EU members is $225 billion, twice that of Russia’s $100 billion military budget and roughly three-quarters of China’s $290 billion. Europe has the capacity, with a GDP 30 times that of Russia and three times their population. Italy’s (and Canada’s) economy alone eclipses that of Russia. But do they have the will?

Second, long-term stability in Europe and Asia will depend on Washington’s ability to build local balances of power and promote regional orders. But make no mistake: most of the world is not aligning with the West.

The United States’ main strategic focus remains the pivot to Asia and “the growing multi-domain threat posed by the PRC.”

Prospects for a US-Chinese confrontation are growing in Asia. Any Asian sense of US reluctance to resist Chinese hegemony will inevitably push more countries in the region to bandwagon with Beijing. The Biden administration is restoring existing pacts and creating new ones. In seeking to constrain Russia and China simultaneously, the United States looks to its partner nations:  29 and soon to be 31 with Sweden and Finland through the NATO alliance; four bilateral pacts with Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand; the reinvigorated Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that includes India; the AUKUS partnership. The G7 should invite its close Pacific partners – India, Australia, Korea – to be regular participants in the group’s strategic dialogues, whether on sanctions policy, technology investment, or critical supply chains.

While 141 nations at the UN General Assembly condemned the Russian invasion and Russia was tossed out of the Human Rights Council, when it comes to the imposition of sanctions in the face of territorial aggression, most of the world chose not to. Sanctions are imposed by only about 40 nations — the EU and G7 nations along with Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Norway and Switzerland. Together they represent about 16 percent of the global population.

Russia and China are actively seeking to increase their influence. China’s Belt and Road initiative already includes 139 nations. As we witnessed at last week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Iran was elevated to full membership, alongside China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and Egypt. Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan now wants to join the club. Together, the SCO, a rough counterpart to the G7 for dictators, represent one-third of global GDP, about 40 per cent of the world’s population, and nearly two-thirds of the Eurasian landmass. and include four nuclear powers. Xi Jinping is continuing to strengthen Chinese relationships in Central Asia, once described by a Chinese general as “a rich piece of cake given to today’s Chinese people by Heaven”.

Third, Putin and Russia are weakened by the Ukraine war and even more dependent on a China within whose ruling circles there is likely some buyer’s remorse about their partnership with ‘no limits’.

The aggregate military expenditure of EU members is $225 billion, twice that of Russia’s $100 billion military budget and roughly three-quarters of China’s $290 billion. Europe has the capacity with a GDP 30 times that of Russia and three times their population. Italy’s (and Canada’s) economy alone eclipses that of Russia. But do they have the will?

Putin’s war aim, detailed in his long essay (July, 2021) on the “Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” was to topple the Zelensky government and incorporate Ukraine into its sphere of influence. Russia’s reliance on its energy resources are a reminder of the late John McCain’s caustic description of Putin’s Russia: “A gas station run by the Mafia masquerading as a country.”  Putin shows no sign of changing his approach, confident that in the coming months the West will divide over the hardships inflicted on them by the war. The Russian public is still behind him, having been fed a steady diet portraying NATO and the USA as the aggressor and the Zelensky regime as run by Nazis. The recent military setbacks have stimulated the nationalists who are demanding national mobilization.

Xi and Putin continue to share the same objective, which is to challenge the Western designed rules-based order. Six months on, Xi is likely embarrassed by the failure of the Putin invasion. If nothing else, he will wonder about the efficacy of the Russian weapons they have bought for over 30 years. The Ukrainian response will also likely make them think twice about military intervention in Taiwan.

The Xi-Putin February “no limits” pact has also shown it does have limits. There was no promise from Xi of weapons or armaments or endorsement of Putin’s “special military operation”, although the Chinese narrative claims a more inclusive model of international relations through SCO and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and other multilateral groupings where China plays a central role. It also reflects Beijing’s criticism of the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, for unilaterally targeting states that fail to follow the “universal values” of liberal democracies. NATO is regularly vilified as a “gangster,” a “war machine,” and a “butcher”. China promotes its networks of multilateral and bilateral strategic partnerships as positive-sum correctives to US-led formal alliances, which Beijing consistently asserts drive world politics toward zero-sum competition. The secondary and tertiary consequences of the conflict are affecting supplies of fuel and food, while increasing famine and forced migration.

The International Energy Agency warns of continuing shortages of energy for coming years. “The world has never witnessed such a major energy crisis in terms of its depth and its complexity,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in July. Until renewables come into their own, it puts a premium on getting energy to Europe. For reasons of collective security Canada needs to get gas and oil to both our coasts. Of course, this is not the context hoped for at November’s Sharm el-Sheikh COP27.

The World Food Program warns of famine for many millions in Africa and the Middle East. As many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night, the number of those facing acute food insecurity has soared since 2019 from 135 million to 345 million. A total of 50 million people in 45 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.

Food and fuel shortages will spur more outward migration from Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean and through Eurasia. Putin and Erdogan have demonstrated that migrants can be weaponized. And as we see in the Swedish and Italian elections with the rise of the populist right, there are political consequences.

With a deeply rooted Ukrainian diaspora, the Mulroney government was the first western government to recognize Ukrainian independence in 1991. Successive governments have supported Ukraine with aid, military training and technical assistance to support good governance.

There was a sense after the Biden and Macron victories that the nativism and populism leveraged by BREXIT, Trump, Modi and Bolsonaro had run its course. It now appears that the force of populism and its underlying drivers that go back to the 2008 financial crisis, the inequalities created by globalization and the power of social media are very durable and have stimulated parties both the far right and far left.

Is a post-dollar world coming? The effect of sanctions combined with decoupling, Chinese “self-sufficiency” and dual circulation may well spell the end of the dollar as the global currency with more regional blocks doing business in their own currencies.

Canada has responded to Ukraine’s plight with armsmoney and resettlement of 87,000 refugees. With a deeply rooted Ukrainian diaspora, the Mulroney government was the first western government to recognize Ukrainian independence in 1991. Successive governments have supported Ukraine with aid, military training and technical assistance to support good governance. Canada will be involved in Ukraine’s eventual, massive reconstruction.

The war has also refocused attention on the importance of collective security through NATO and the importance of deterrence, defence and intelligence. The Trudeau government has increased its defence budget and NATO deployments, although we are still well short of spending two percent of GDP on defence – the NATO commitment for 2024.

Looking forward, the US Institute for Peace argues for three levels of negotiations: a contact group for the Russia and Ukraine; Multilateral Talks in Europe involving EU, OSCE, NATO; Strategic Stability Dialogue using Track 1.5 and Track 2 involving US, Russia, China, and others.

There are also good ideas in a recent German Marshall Fund report on reconstruction in Ukraine. It answers core questions including When to start? Who should lead? Who should pay? What about corruption?

The Ukraine war has refocused debate on values versus interests. But it is an ultimately sterile debate as our values underline our interests and our interests reflect our values. Abandoning or soft-peddling the values dimension towards Russia and China in favour of the Realpolitik of market access is a mistake. We cannot depend on Russia for energy, nor on China for critical minerals and strategic goods.

The West reacted to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 with words and very limited sanctions. In the case of Chinese-made islands in the South China Sea we made “protests” – words not deeds. We did the same with the international tribunal’s ruling in favour of the Philippines. Democrats in Russia and China lost faith in the West. The net result was to leave the Kremlin and Beijing with the impression that the West can be either intimidated or bought. It did not serve our interests and diminished faith in our values.

The Ukraine conflict reminds us that leadership, intelligence, arms and allies all matter. But so does morale and the belief you are fighting for something you believe in. Narratives are important and the closed nature of autocracies gives them the advantage. They control the media. One of the early actions of the Putin regime was to ban independent and social media. By controlling the media they control that what people hear and see. Western governments have adapted through, for example, the release of intelligence previously kept secret as to when the war would begin to discredit Putin’s denials.

Going forward the narrative needs to hammer home that Russia has violated territorial sovereignty in violation of international commitments. In doing so, it is also breaking the rules of war in its treatment of civilians and that those responsible will be held accountable.

The defining divide of our time is not that of right versus left but democracy versus autocracy. We can never take liberty for granted. And let’s not delude ourselves, we are not doing very well, either at home or abroad.

Patten Diaries on Hong Kong

      Comments Off on Patten Diaries on Hong Kong

Policy Magazine: Patten’s ‘Hong Kong Diaries’: An Engaging Stroll Through the Handover Snake Pit

The Hong Kong Diaries

By Chris Patten

Penguin Random House/October 2022

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

September 14, 2022

It would be easy to introduce this review of Chris Patten’s Hong Kong Diaries by observing that the author had a good 20th century. But Patten — son of an Irish Catholic jazz drummer raised in west London who went on to Oxford’s Balliol College from whence he entered politics by working for New York Mayor John Lindsay before becoming the Tory MP for Bath, a cabinet minister, then the chairman of the UK Conservative Party — has also had a pretty good 21st century. He has been chancellor of Oxford since 2003 and Lord Patten of Barnes since 2005. He fits comfortably into the pantheon of Britain’s ‘great and good’.

Patten’s Hong Kong Diaries cover his five years (1992-97) as the 28th and last British governor of Hong Kong, an assignment that was both enthralling and notoriously thankless under the circumstances. Insightful and intelligent, Patten’s Hong Kong diaries are the jottings of high life, low life, and family life, including the antics of their two Norfolk terriers, Whisky and Soda. Mostly, they are the story of his efforts to entrench Hong Kong with basic liberties and a more representative government ahead of the 1997 handover to China agreed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 that ostensibly gave the former British colony 50 years of limited autonomy under the principle ‘One Country, Two Systems’. The subsequent Basic Law of 1990 guaranteed fundamental freedoms and human rights.

By his own admission, Patten’s efforts for the “good and brave people” of Hong Kong did not succeed. He would write (May 16, 1997), just weeks before the handover: “We have let them and others down. We should have delivered more explicitly what was promised in the Joint Declaration and given greater protection for the values which the great majority of Hong Kong Chinese citizens believe in and want to survive.”

For Hong Kong, once described by the writer Han Suyin as a city that “works splendidly – on borrowed time in a borrowed place,” the clock ran out in June 2020, nearly 30 years prematurely, with China’s brutal eradication of democracy through its Hong Kong national security law.

Patten’s failure to avert catastrophe for Hong Kong ahead of his return to England in 1997 was not for want of trying. The deal was already done through the Joint Declaration and Basic Law and Patten could really only tinker, albeit valiantly, at the edges. In that sense, the diaries are a five-year chronicle of intrigue and obfuscation, of frustrations and disappointments, a case study in the challenges of negotiating with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Diplomats and leaders in the West can learn lessons from all of it.

The title of Patten’s final chapter, written earlier this year, says it all: “The Destruction of Hong Kong: What Happened After 1997”. As Patten observes, the CCP never really understood the difference between “rule of law and rule by law” nor that the “law must serve the people, not the people the law.”

Patten writes that Nobel laureate-economist Milton Friedman, who spent years lauding the democratic Hong Kong as an example of a successful free-market experiment, thought the idea of a free market economy under the rule of law shifting to “living happily within the control and jurisdiction of a communist totalitarian state was preposterous. It was an oxymoronic contradiction on stilts.” For many in the CCP, who still believe that the success of Hong Kong resulted from “piggybacking on China’s own economic resurgence”, the crackdown was also about getting even with a place Deng Xiaoping once described as the “pimple on the arse of China.”

Like Taiwan, Hong Kong stood as a success story, its citizens and residents enjoying more liberty and more prosperity than people living on the mainland under the CCP. Patten concludes: “As we know from what has happened in Hong Kong, we cannot take the survival of those values for granted. Hong Kong’s fight for freedom, for individual liberty and decency, is our fight as well.”

For many in the CCP, who still believe that the success of Hong Kong resulted from ‘piggybacking on China’s own economic resurgence’, the crackdown was also about getting even with a place Deng Xiaoping once described as the ‘pimple on the arse of China’.

The British had governed the colony since 1841 when, after the first Opium War, the island of Hong Kong was ceded to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by the Qing dynasty. Subsequent treaties (1898) added a ninety-nine-year lease on Kowloon, the New Territories and the adjacent islands, but not Hong Kong.

In 1984, Margaret Thatcher — on advice from Henry Kissinger who, as he writes in his own recent book, Leadership, was acting as private-citizen backchannel between London and Beijing — agreed to include Hong Kong on expiry of that lease based on the former US Secretary of State’s urging that, if she didn’t,  China would take the island by force.

It was Patten’s challenge, working with Hong Kong’s Executive and Legislative Councils and supported by the colony’s civil service, to codify into law the guaranteed ‘separate system’ for Hong Kong. Patten was determined to instill human rights and representative government. Therein lay the rub.

Patten early on identified the conflicting, often countervailing, pressures in what he would later characterize (September 2, 1996) as a “snake pit”.

It was hard slogging. Patten continually felt undermined by the British Foreign Office, especially the “clever, conceited, acerbic” Sir Percy Craddock, a “vain old thing” who “puts my back up.” A sinologist, Craddock was chargé d’affaires in the British embassy in Beijing when it was invaded during the Cultural Revolution in 1967. Craddock later served as UK Ambassador to Beijing and played a key role in negotiating the Joint Declaration. Craddock was not alone, Patten writes, and was backed by, among others, former prime ministers Jim Callaghan and Ted Heath.

Beijing, whose pre-millennial antipathy toward Hong Kong democracy would be amplified and contextualized by its anti-democracy activities, investments and coercions globally over the first two decades of this century, also relied on the Hong Kong taipans, British and Chinese, who saw their future with the mainland. They wanted nothing that would annoy Beijing, while expecting the “continuing certainty of the rule of law” and “the conditions of stability for an effective market economy”. Many in the business elite had foreign passports in their back pockets. After Tiananmen Square (1989), those who didn’t soon got one.

Then there were those in Britain and abroad who, as Patten observed (April 17-21, 1993), “would like to feel a warm glow of satisfaction that we are doing the decent thing by Hong Kongers, but they feel somewhat constrained in their enthusiasm by dislike for the gerontocracy in Beijing, which doesn’t give much of a damn about concepts like human rights.”

As a skilled politician, Patten was very much attuned to what was taking place in Britain and within the Conservative Party. Patten had been minister for, at various points, Northern Ireland, Education, Environment and Overseas Development. He also chaired the 1992 Tory election campaign that won John Major his unexpected post-Thatcher majority. Had he not lost his own seat, he would have been in line for a major cabinet post. As well as Hong Kong, Patten was offered a safe return to the House or an appointment to the Lords. Throughout his time in Hong Kong, these opportunities would continue to beckon.

Canada comes out well in the diaries. In the wake of Tiananmen Square, when the lineups for Canadian emigration stretched several blocks around Exchange Square, Canada prioritized practical help in the entrenchment of representative government. Patten would write of his final conversation (July 1, 1994) with Canada’s senior representative, Commissioner John Higginbotham, before Higginbotham was re-assigned to Washington:

“He believes that we have been successful in getting Hong Kong accustomed to the software of a free, open and plural society, that policy previously was a matter of just keeping our fingers crossed about the Joint Declaration and the Chinese commitment to it. We weren’t telling people the truth or making them face up to the reality that they would have to want Hong Kong to succeed if it were to have any chance of doing so after the handover. He thinks that this was in many ways a dreadful hoax. At least we have given Hong Kong citizens the chance to make some of their own decisions about the future. I wish this man had been working in our own foreign service for the last 20 years.”

Tiananmen Square had a profound effect on the Hong Kong people. Overnight, they realized that the politics they had eschewed – previously less than a third turned out in local elections – mattered. Over a million in the then 6.4 million colony marched through the streets. Institutions we assume – a free press, independent judiciary, an honest and non-political civil service and police force, representative government – suddenly became meaningful.

The response of Hong Kong people convinced me that the fundamental divide is not right vs left but rather open vs closed systems. And never take liberty for granted. In supporting the nascent democracy, we Canadian diplomats faced the same conflicting pressures at home, in Hong Kong, and in Beijing that Patten describes.

Posted as Consul to Hong Kong (1987-92), I was deeply involved in the Canadian efforts to support autonomy for Hong Kong. We brought out the last commissioner of the Northwest Territories to help explain the transition to self-government. Our Chief Electoral Officer explained the mechanics of a free, fair and efficient election. We signed agreements on air services and did an ad hoc exchange of civil servants. We accepted Vietnamese refugees who had been languishing in Hong Kong camps. In the years after Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong became our principal source of new migrants, with annual numbers rising from just over1,000 to a peak of 44,000 in 1994.  Between 1984 and 1997, 335,646 Hong Kongers moved to Canada, making us home to one of the largest Hong Kong diasporas.

Our efforts had the full backing of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Patten describes Mulroney as “extrovertly on our side”. To underline Canada’s commitment, Mulroney dispatched ministers to visit Hong Kong. He and Mila came and dedicated a totem pole in Kowloon Park. Of succeeding Canadian governments, Patten would write (January 10, 1995) that they have “a crush at the moment on China. They see – here we go again – treasures beyond human craving just over the horizon.”

If the Trudeau government would act on its promised “Canadian centre to better support democracy and good governance around the world”, what we did for Hong Kong could be a model for future initiatives.

Hong Kong is still our best entrée into the Indo-Pacific. There are still at least 300,000 Canadians living there. The forthcoming Indo-Pacific strategy will be the poorer if standing up for Hong Kong and the Canadian community there does not figure prominently in a larger China policy that also includes support for Taiwan and defence of human rights.

Perhaps the most poignant diary entry (Friday, September 20, 1996) is Patten recounting a conversation with a patient during a visit to Castle Peak psychiatric hospital, whose improvement the Pattens made a personal project.

Patten writes:

‘Excuse me, Governor. Would you claim that Britain is the oldest democracy in the world?’ he asked.

‘One could certainly claim that,’ I replied.

‘And would you also agree that China is the last great communist totalitarian state in the world?’

 ‘Some people might say that,’ I responded diplomatically.

‘Well could you tell me, Governor,’ he went on, ‘why your democracy is handing Hong Kong, a fine and free city, over to a communist society without ever having consulted the people who live here about what they want?” 

Here was the sanest man in Hong Kong locked up in a hospital for the mentally ill. So, we are rebuilding it!

These diaries complement Patten’s earlier book East and West: The Last Governor of Hong Kong on Power, Freedom and the Future (1998)At 580 pages, the diaries are a brick, but Patten’s breezy style and trenchant commentary make them an easy read. I recommend the audio version – 25 hours – that Patten reads himself, providing a much better sense of people, places and events. I would pop in the earbuds at bedtime and let Patten’s mellifluous voice put me to sleep.

Variously described by CCP-backed media as a “sinner for a thousand years, prostitute, triple violator”, Patten was named by Queen Elizabeth in 1998 to the 65-member Order of the Companions of Honour. The Order also includes Canadians John de Chastelain, Margaret MacMillan and Margaret Atwood. Patten continues to speak out and to write a regular column for Project Syndicate.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, students returning to their classrooms have got new history books. They claim that Hong Kong was never a British colony because Britain was never the sovereign power and that the protests of 2019 were driven by ‘external forces’.

Historical revisionism is not only nothing new in totalitarian regimes, it’s a defining ingredient. When Joseph Stalin rewrote history in the 1930s, the Soviets joked that “The past changes so often you don’t know what’s going to happen yesterday.”

As Patten writes, you can learn a lot about how China would like to deal with the rest of the world by looking at how Beijing has dealt with Hong Kong.

Beijing seems confident that the rest of the world will turn a blind eye to its disregard for the rule of law and freedom of expression. For a Chinese leadership emboldened by the power of 21st-century propaganda — especially anti-democracy propaganda generated by corrupted domestic actors in key democracies — it is only the weak that need abide by democratic norms being systematically eroded from within, as President Joe Biden pointed warned in his recent Philadelphia speech. Beijing is confident that, sooner rather than later, China will be setting the norms. Which makes Chris Patten’s Hong Kong Diaries a warning for the rest of the world.