Coherence Needed in Canada-China Relations

David's response to Derek Burney's essay in Globe and Mail
By David Kilgour

Derek Burney’s essay (Globe, Apr.11th) can be boiled down to calling for a wider and deeper commercial relationship with China, which sounds reasonable until one looks more closely.

He is, for example, rightly concerned that the trade balance has soared in China's favour from $8.5 billion in 2001 to $28.8 billion by 2007, but does not explain how a bilateral investment treaty would create more exports for Canadians.

Burney argues that a treaty must give Chinese investors the right to invest in Canada’s natural resources, but they already have it. Recent examples include Sinopec increasing to 50 per cent its share in the Northern Lights oil sands project in Alberta and China National Petroleum earlier buying some oil sands leases.

China Minmetals, a branch of its mines ministry, earlier explored buying  Noranda Mining, but was rebuffed when Canadian critics pointed out that that this would amount to a Chinese government takeover of a strategic asset in the Canadian economy. Does Burney favour this kind of investment too?

Peter Navarro, a professor at the University of California, argues correctly that consumer markets across the world have been “conquered” by China largely through cheating on trade practices. These include export subsidies, widespread counterfeiting and piracy of products, currency manipulation, and environmental, health and safety standards so weakly enforced that they have made China a very dangerous place to work.

Navarro says new trade legislation by all of China’s trade partners should achieve fair trade by the following:

  1. All must refrain from illegal export subsidies and currency manipulation and abide by the rules of the World Trade Organization(WTO);
  2. For currency manipulation, he supports what the bi-partisan US-China Commission has recommended to the American Congress: define it as an illegal export subsidy and add it to other subsidies when calculating anti-dumping and countervail penalties;
  3. Every trade partner must respect intellectual property; adopt and enforce health, safety and environmental regulations consistent with international norms; provide decent wages and working conditions; and ban the use of forced labour;
  4. Adopt a 'zero-tolerance' policy for anyone who sells or distributes pirated or counterfeit goods;
  5. Defective and contaminated food and drugs must be blocked more effectively by measures which make it easier to hold importers liable for selling foreign products that do harm to people or pets;
  6. Despite growing criticism, China's party-state continues to trade its UN Security Council veto for energy, raw materials and access to markets from Angola to Burma to Zimbabwe. Increased monitoring and exposure of China's party-state activities everywhere is important;
  7. To reverse the 'race to the environmental bottom' in China, to require all to compete on a level playing field and to reduce acid rain and smog affecting populations abroad, all bilateral and multilateral trade agreements should henceforth include strong provisions for protection of the natural environment.

Canadian/Chinese Values

Many Canadians allow our respect for the people of China to mute criticism of their government.  When apologists for its party-state insist that the situation for a growing part of the population is getting better, many of us appear willing to overlook bad governance, official violence, growing social inequalities, widespread corruption and chronic nepotism.

The Chinese people want the same things as Canadians, including, respect for all, education, to be safe and secure, good jobs, and a sustainable natural environment. Living standards have improved on the coast and in other urban areas, but there is a cost. Most Chinese continue to be exploited by the party-state and firms, often owned by or contracted for manufacturing to multinationals, which operate today across their country like 19th century robber barons.

This explains partly why the prices of consumer products 'made in China' seem so low—the externalities are borne by workers, their families and the natural environment.

Labour Camps

In doing our final report on party-state organ pillaging from Falun Gong practitioners, David Matas and I visited about a dozen countries to interview adherents sent to China's forced labour camps since 1999, who managed later to leave the camps and the country itself. They told us of working in appalling conditions for up to sixteen hours daily with no pay, little food, being cramped together on the floor for sleeping and being tortured. They made export products, ranging from garments to chopsticks to Christmas decorations as subcontractors to multinational companies. This, of course, constitutes both gross corporate irresponsibility and violations of WTO rules.

The labour camps are outside the legal system and allow the party-state to send anyone to them for up to four years with neither hearing nor appeal.

There is a link between the involuntary labour done since 1999 by tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners and other prisoners in these camps and the resulting loss of manufacturing jobs in Canada and elsewhere. One estimate of the number of the camps across China as of 2005 was 340, having a capacity of about 300,000 inmates. In 2007, a US government report estimated that at least half of the inmates in the camps were Falun Gong.

Such practices would not be occurring if the Chinese people enjoyed the rule of law and their government believed in the intrinsic importance of each one of them.  It is the combination of totalitarian governance and 'anything is permitted' economics that allows such practices to persist. Canada and other countries should ban forced labour exports.


The attempted crushing of  democracy movements, truthful journalists, Buddhist, Falun Gong, Christian, Muslim and other independent faith groups, human rights lawyers and other legitimate civil society communities in recent years indicates that China's party-state must still be engaged with caution.

If its government stops abuses of human rights and takes steps to indicate that it wishes to treat its trade partners in a mutually-beneficial way, the new century will bring harmony for China, its trading partners and neighbours. The Chinese people have the numbers, perseverance, self-discipline, entrepreneurship, intelligence, culture and pride to make this new century better and more peaceful for the entire human family.