Canada Resolutely Builds Trade Ties with China
Mark Clayton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
CANADIAN Prime Minister Jean Chretien is pushing to expand trade with China despite concerns by human-rights groups, opposition politicians, and the United States that China's record on rights violations is growing worse.
Tomorrow, Canadian Trade Minister Roy MacLaren will leave with Canadian business leaders for a tour of China, South Korea, and Japan. Governor-General Ramon Hnatyshyn, the head of state, will make a similar swing through Asia in May.
Mr. Chretien himself will visit Beijing in November, the first visit by a Canadian prime minister since hundreds of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in Tiananmen Square by troops in 1989.
"How do you balance human rights with the need to trade?" Chretien asked last week in a speech at a foreign policy review conference. With pragmatism, government officials say. If Canada is to pursue a human-rights agenda with China, it must do much more, not less, business with China - its sixth-largest trading partner - and talk privately about human rights issues.
Chretien has long shown an interest in shifting the focus of Canadian trade from Europe to Asia. A key motivation, analysts say, is his desire to hook Canada's still-sluggish economy to Asia's emerging economic powerhouse.
Last year, Canada exported $169.5 billion (Canadian; US$124 billion) in goods and services. Fully $113.6 billion (67 percent) went to the US, according to Statistics Canada, a government agency. But Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan absorbed 35 percent of all of the rest of Canada's exports.
Over the next decade, Asia is expected to spend US$1 trillion on electric plants, phone systems, roads, and airports. Exports are the brightest spot in the Canadian economy - and perhaps Chretien's best hope to create jobs to bring down Canada's 11 percent unemployment rate, analysts say. Northern Telecom, for instance, has been selling phone systems, and Hydro-Quebec is looking to help build power facilities in China.
Foreign Affairs Minister Andre Ouellet told the Globe and Mail this week that the Chretien government wants to better relations with China in order to "take advantage of the opportunities there." The minister also spoke of not wanting to get "bogged down by Tiananmen Square. …