Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Harper’s China project—let’s keep it commercial

Dramatists in Canada’s diplomatic service and China retainers in Canadian universities, business think-tanks, and law offices are inflating beyond all reason Stephen Harper’s so-called “recalibration” of Canada’s relationship with China. His meetings in Beijing this week will not reorient Canada, wake up the United States, or create a new “strategic partnership.”
The two countries, not Stephen Harper, simply have too much baggage, too many qualities that clash.
China and Canada do have two obvious things in common: vast empty spaces and elites itching to get out from under the “shadow” of the United States.
Yes, their mutual interest in developing Canadian energy and raw resources does justify better commercial relations. That profitable consideration, however, cannot drive the kind of expansive association that we’re reading about in the op-ed pages of Canadian newspapers.
Joseph Caron, a former Canadian ambassador to China, and Wenran Jiang, an Alberta academic, offered Harper a grandiose vision of the “Long game on China.” Displaying a plethora of rhetorical tricks, they advised Harper to describe his China objective as a “strategic partnership.” This phase, they assure, is not diplomatic blather because Beijing already uses the term to “categorize its most important partnerships.”
So, if China chooses to call its 1% trade relationship with Canada—the closest friend and ally of China’s principal strategic competitor, the United States—a “strategic partnership,” no one will laugh, Mr. Harper, if you say it as well.
Not content to think merely about exporting more Canadian oil, raw logs, and lobsters, they flesh out their partnership vision in human terms. Here, they take your breath away.
“Human rights: This issue is sensitive and requires strategic thinking. Canadian and Chinese people are not that far apart on matters of the inherent rights. They all wish to exercise their civil and political rights and enjoy freedoms, and see them protected. Over time, the Chinese people themselves will decide how the government will insure both.”

This is a ridiculously coy description of the circumstances of the Chinese people and it's beside the point. The Chinese people still can’t express, let alone worry about protecting the whole array of human rights that most of the world now considers inherent—as in, the right to vote for and be a member of an alternative political party, to suggest publicly that your leaders are corrupt or incompetent, to protect yourself and your property before independent courts, and to read uncensored news. 

Substituting the views of the people for the views of the Chinese government is deceitful.

The multidimensional “strategic partnership” Caron and Jiang are promoting would exist between a democratic and an authoritarian government. The “dialogue mechanisms” they recommend would exist between one set of people who are free to be themselves and another who are not. Harper would be well advised to recall the words of George Orwell: "The great enemy of clear language is insincerity."
If Harper decides to use the convoluted language and subterfuge of the above China sophisticates, he shouldn’t be surprised if Canadians don’t accept what he accomplishes as very genuine, let alone honorable.

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