Canada and China don’t need to be friends


In May 2018 I went to Shanghai with the Toronto Board of Trade. The purpose of the trip was to connect Canadian businesses with Chinese buyers. We also met with the Canada/China Chamber of Commerce. There were a number of Canadian wine companies, meat companies and skin care companies. We were treated extremely well by the Chinese companies and they encouraged us to expand to China.

Enter 2019, and a lot has already changed. With the detention of Canadians, the board of directors at ClearWay Law told me I cannot go on my January trip. I had to cancel, and Air Canada managed to earn profit off my trip cancellation fee.

Canada has put a lot of time, effort and money into building trade relations with China. China and Canada were supposedly close. We can’t throw away our efforts to create a free-trade agreement just because some CFO was arrested. Most of the Chinese I spoke to about the incident didn’t even know who Meng Wanzhou was until the Chinese media said the arrest was an attack on China.

We need to accept China is not similar to Canada. We do not need to be friends. Canada will always be closer to the United States than China. China is a country that places political control and economic growth above all else. Canada is a country that places human rights and environmental protection above all else. Sending Canadian officials over to China to discuss human rights and the polluted air will do nothing for relations. Chinese officials do not care how Canada feels about their country. They want Canada to mind its own business.

To further demonstrate this point, Michael Kovrig was arrested in China for his work promoting human rights. He promoted human rights and reported on highly sensitive issues such as Tibet, Muslim minorities being arrested in Xinjiang and other issues that the Communist Party do not want discussed. He knew, or should have known, that there was a high chance of being arrested. The Chinese government would have been looking for any excuse to arrest him. Wanzhou’s arrest in Vancouver was the excuse they needed.

Let’s accept the idea that China and Canada can work together to grow our economies. Let’s be realistic and focus on selling high-quality Canadian products to the massive Chinese market. They need high-quality products and we need a larger market to sell to. China has a lot of problems, but they are not asking for our help.

If China and the USA want to fight over who gets to control the world, leave Canada out of it. We are friends with everyone. The United States need not worry about us gaining closer economic ties with China. We will always be their closest ally. At the same time, Canadian politicians need to work hard to bring new opportunities for Canadian businesses. It is unlikely those opportunities are currently in the United States.

Last month John McCallum, Canadian Ambassador to China, was fired from his job. He decided to get involved in a situation where there are no winners. China’s Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye made untrue statements about Canada, angering many Canadians. We are better off setting up more trade missions to China. Send Canadian entrepreneurs to China to fix relations. Leave the politicians in Ottawa where they belong.

Alistair Vigier is the CEO of ClearWay Law, an immigration law firm. He is the author of Go to Canada: A Chinese Guide: Study and Work in Canada.