--> Getting It Right: Only Nixon Can Go?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Only Nixon Can Go?

The politics of China have broken more careers of warriors and statesmen than any other nation.

For some reason, the behemoth that is China threatens and fascinates business leaders, politicians and royalty alike. There is a strange mythology, especially in the four decades since Nixon’s surprise visit, that one shouldn’t criticize the world’s most populous nation.

There are two stark theories circulating in respect to the biggest remaining communist state and how we frame our relationship with it.

One is to pretend China is an open democracy like the rest of us and trade away, hoping that the flow of wealth and a growing middle class will bring true freedom to the nation.

In other words, if we get enough BMWs into the hands of the Chinese people, maybe they will spontaneously rise up and slough off the stain of communism.

The other option, which is currently out of favour by most observers, is to shut off the tap of metals, timber and coal and stop importing goods manufactured in China. In other words, force revolution by starvation.

Both theories are dangerous and remain just that - theories.

But there is a reality about China we have to face as freedom and truth loving people.

Although its progress in terms of developing a strong middle class is marvelous, China operates political prison camps for those opposed to the regime, suppresses religious freedom (including the plucky Falun Gong it calls a cult), displays aggressive and possibly genocidal policies in Tibet and, most importantly of all, does not allow free and fair elections.

Stephen Harper’s visit to Asia this last week has highlighted the gulf between the two approaches and the political risk in even a moderate shift in how Canada engages with China.

Unlike the previous obsequious approach taken by Canada, Harper was not willing to meet with the Chinese Leader, Hu Jintao, unless they could discuss human rights issues.

Hu initially declined to “lose face” and the Chinese propaganda machine kicked into high gear. Remember, these are the people that denied the slaughter of students in Tiananmen Square – they can spin pretty much anything. Finally China backed down and Harper got his meeting, but not before Bill Graham and the rest of the Liberal caucus gleefully brought out the knives.

For some reason, the Federal Liberals bought the Chinese spin that China should not be held to account for the imprisonment of Canadian citizens and the organ harvesting allegations of its own.

Stephen Harper put his reputation on the line in the international sphere because he believes otherwise and reminded all of us that sometimes standing up to the bully is the first step to building a better relationship.


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