With lives at stake, Canada’s misguided vision of China demands a careful reboot: David Mulroney

Another good column by Mulroney. His reference to the naiveté of diaspora politics, highlighted, particularly relevant given recent instances of Chinese government activity in Canada (e.g., Student groups call for Ottawa to investigate alleged interference by Chinese officials on Canadian campuses):

Canada’s primary foreign-policy challenge with China has been clear for months now. We have to secure the freedom of detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and save the lives of fellow Canadians Robert Schellenberg and Fan Wei, who face death sentences from a murky Chinese legal system that takes instruction from the Chinese state. Our message to allies is clear, too: we all have a stake in pushing back against a China that uses hostage diplomacy, economic blackmail and even the threat of execution to achieve its objectives.

But there’s another equally challenging China task on the horizon. We need to start thinking about what we’ve learned from this terrible episode, and how it should shape our future relationship with China.

We’re not very good at this. The natural inclination of every bureaucracy in times of crisis is to restore the status quo ante. This happens for a variety of reasons, among them the fact that reviving an old strategy is a lot easier than thinking up a new one. But we’re also still in the grips of a misguided vision of China, one especially dear to the Canadian governing and business classes, that naively embraces almost everything that Beijing has on offer.

The current government refers to this as “comprehensive engagement,” something former ambassador John McCallum rendered more descriptively for Chinese audiences with the phrase geng duo, meaning “even more.” Just about any idea was worth considering, was the implication – as long as it lived up to our Olympian ambitions.

Few former diplomats, including this one, can claim to have entirely resisted the geng duo impulse to substitute promotion for policy. But given the undeniable evidence of China’s hostility to core Canadian interests, starting with the safety of our citizens, we urgently need to reconsider our approach.

There is no shutting the door to China, which is increasingly central to our prosperity and to solving threats to the environment, global health and food safety. But we will have to be much more thoughtful about how we do this, moving from comprehensive engagement to something smarter and more tailored to our objectives and vulnerabilities.

The days of indiscriminately encouraging China-bound travel and pumping Canadian delegations into China, a state that capriciously detains foreigners, are over. We should start by skipping events dedicated to China’s boundless appetite for international self-promotion or the delusion that China is a democracy in the making.

We also need to think carefully about trade and investment promotion, particularly in sectors like canola, where China’s immense demand gives it leverage over us. We need to work even harder at finding new markets, and doing more processing here in Canada to add value to what we sell. China seems to find economic blackmail easiest with commodities.

It’s also time to re-examine the received wisdom that shapes our China strategy, purging it of a sort of malware encouraged by China to delude the naive. This includes such fictions as the idea that China is inherently peaceful and has no territorial ambitions, that it abides by a policy of non-interference in other countries, that trade is a favour it bestows on friendly nations, and that access to its leaders is an end and reward in itself.

The idea that our China policy tends to be highly corrupted by these falsehoods is proven by our enduring gullibility on two important counts. The first is the idea that Canadians of Chinese origin are something of a shared bilateral resource, and that members of this community have a responsibility to help their fellow citizens better understand China. This fits hand-in-glove with the Canadian penchant for diaspora politics, and opens the door to Chinese interference.

The second powerful myth is that China is so uniquely sensitive that, no matter what it does, any response other than abject silence is hurtful and dangerously counterproductive. This has contributed to persistent Canadian passivity in the face of outrageous behaviour.

Getting China right will be particularly difficult for a Liberal government that has, to put it charitably, struggled with foreign policy. The government approaches the world beyond our borders with the inexplicable conviction that other countries are either as progressive as Liberal voters or aspire to be. This is wrong, and dangerously so.

We simply can’t postpone a rethink of our approach to China, and we must finally be open to the idea that, when it comes to engaging Beijing, smarter is better than comprehensive – and less is almost certainly better than more.

Source: With lives at stake, Canada’s misguided vision of China demands a careful reboot David Mulroney May 1, 2019     

Trudeau is delivering the foreign policy Canadians deserve: David Mulroney

Good commentary by our former Ambassador to China (and former foreign service colleague of mine). Not unique to Chinese and Indo-Canadians, comparable issues arise with respect to Ukrainian Canadians and Canadian Jews with respect to foreign policy:

The best that can be said about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India is that it may prompt a review, if not a complete rethinking of a Canadian foreign policy that appears to be seriously off the rails. We have some hard lessons to learn.

At the very least, the Prime Minister’s debacle in India should encourage smart people in Ottawa to zero in on what isn’t working.

Most worrying is a fundamental and puzzling failure at the level of policy implementation, something that appears to be compounded by the Prime Minister’s own impetuosity. Flying to India before the big meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the bag, much like heading off to Beijing on a free-trade themed visit without any reasonable expectation that a deal was doable, exposes Mr. Trudeau to a degree of prolonged public skepticism that comes to define the visit itself.

Ottawa’s obsession with exotic photo-ops is a less likely candidate for serious review, given its long and undistinguished lineage through such past devotees as Stephen Harper and Jean Chrétien. But we can at least hope that the Trudeau version of this practice may get dialled down. Through his rapid succession of exotic costume changes, Mr. Trudeau managed to do to his own image what Alec Baldwin does, through similarly comic exaggeration, to Donald Trump’s on Saturday Night Live.

Even harder to banish will be our obsession with diaspora politics. No one is denying that we derive wonderful advantages from our multicultural society. But other multicultural countries, such as the United States, Australia and Britain, are far less inclined to view their international interests so completely through the prism of diaspora communities. We need to understand that Canada’s interests in India are not entirely the same as those of influential portions of the Indo-Canadian community or of the Sikh-Canadian subset of that community. Worse, our continuing insistence on the political importance of diaspora groups makes it more likely that their countries of origin – and this is particularly true of China and India – will be inclined to interfere in Canadian affairs.

These persistent problems point to an inconvenient truth: The problem isn’t with politicians, it’s with all of us. We’re getting the foreign policy we deserve. We seem unable to grasp that our engagement of countries such as India and China ultimately needs to be about something more than reminding them of how much they admire us.

India isn’t our friend. It is a rising regional power beset with a range of domestic problems, including serious human rights issues. It takes a prickly approach to global issues that is often at odds with traditional Canadian policies in areas ranging from trade policy to nuclear disarmament.

The Indian diplomats I worked with could be wonderfully pleasant after the official day was done. But, for the most part, they brought a formidably ruthless precision to their pursuit of India’s interests in the world. While they might ultimately agree to grant Canada a concession, this was always a product of hard and often heated negotiations. They never conceded a point because they liked us or because we are home to a large Indo-Canadian community.

My experience with Chinese diplomats was entirely similar.

Long before the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, it should have been clear to us that the world is changing in ways that do not align with traditional Canadian views, interests and values. If we’re smart, the rise of countries like China and India can certainly contribute to our prosperity, and with hard work, we should be able to find common cause on important issues such as global warming.

But the rise of these assertive and ambitious Asian powers will almost certainly challenge global and regional security. Both will also continue to reject traditional Canadian notions about global governance and human rights, and neither will be particularly squeamish about interfering in Canadian affairs.

The Trump era should convince us that we can no longer rely entirely on the protective cover of a globally engaged America. We need to be smart and hard-nosed when it comes to promoting and defending our own interests. Photo ops and costume changes won’t cut it any more.

via Trudeau is delivering the foreign policy Canadians deserve – The Globe and Mail

What happened to Canada’s support of democratic rights in Hong Kong? [expatriate voting aspect] – David Mulroney

Good column by former colleague and former Ambassador to China David Mulroney on Hong Kong and support for democratic rights.

And appropriate put-down of the Government’s Bill C-33, and its provision to grant indefinite voting rights without any corresponding commitment and responsibility:

Mr. Patten was particularly scathing in his commentary about independence advocates, whose campaign, he said, “dilutes support for democracy.” This was interpreted as criticism of two lawmakers, supporters of independence, who have been forced to vacate their seats. The duo had refused to take the official oath of office, substituting wording that could be considered offensive to China. Their actions sparked legal intervention by China’s government even before Hong Kong’s own courts could consider the issue.

It’s hard to argue with Mr. Patten’s assessment. Pushing for Hong Kong’s independence is wildly unrealistic and, given China’s sensitivity and volatility, irresponsible. But it is also an understandable expression of local frustrations given how little effort has been devoted to exploring more moderate options for democratic governance. If Hong Kong’s leaders, and friends such as Britain and Canada, had remained true to the vision of one country, two systems, the city’s residents would today have at least some say in charting their future. Instead, they are condemned to a form of governance in which they are asked to take up the responsibilities of citizenship without the corresponding rights.

The reverse is true for that fortunate minority among Hong Kong’s seven million residents who also happen to be Canadian citizens. The recently-introduced Bill C-33, which amends the Canada Elections Act, would offer the right to vote to all Canadians residing overseas, as long as they have lived in Canada at some point. It eliminates a previous provision that restricted voting rights to expatriates who had been absent for fewer than five years. The bill is big news in Hong Kong, where a Canadian community of roughly 300,000 includes emigrants to Canada who have since returned, and Canadian-born expats lured by Hong Kong’s low-tax, business-friendly environment.

Passage of the bill will encourage much chest-thumping about Canada’s support for democracy, but it is hard not to see in this something slightly different. Ottawa is offering up one of the most important rights of citizenship, the right to vote in elections back home, without reference to any corresponding responsibilities. This is politically astute, but not particularly courageous. Real support for democracy requires more ambition and more honesty.

Britain, Canada and other democracies have not lived up to their 1997 commitments, failing to follow up with the training programs, institutional exchanges and official encouragement that could have assisted the gradual emergence of healthy democratic institutions in Hong Kong. And they neglected to hold China accountable for its own commitments.

Source: What happened to Canada’s support of democratic rights in Hong Kong? – The Globe and Mail

David Mulroney warns Canada should apply Afghanistan’s lessons to Iraq

Sound advice:

A former top official on Canada’s work in Afghanistan is warning against getting too involved in Iraq without clear and realistic objectives.

David Mulroney, who served as the deputy minister in charge of the Afghanistan Task Force, said Canada hasn’t looked closely enough at its experience in Afghanistan.

“When I recently saw Foreign Minister [Rob] Nicholson musing that we’d apply some of the lessons of Afghanistan to our engagement, I kind of sat bolt upright because I think one of the problems is we haven’t spent much time learning the lessons of Afghanistan,” Mulroney said in an interview to air Saturday at 9 a.m. on CBC Radio’s The House.

Mulroney said a newly released audit shows “how hard it was to get that development assistance and humanitarian assistance right in a place where none of the officials were really clear about what Canada’s objectives were.”

Mulroney also served as secretary to the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan, which was led by former foreign affairs minister John Manley, and as foreign and defence policy adviser to the prime minister.

He said the lack of discussion about Afghanistan toward the end of the 10-year mission has kept Canadians from learning key lessons, which include being realistic about how much Canada doesn’t know about a region and setting “often very modest” goals.

Mulroney also said Canada needs an exit strategy.

“When does it happen for us and who’s around to pick up the pieces of what we’ve put in place. Until we’ve really talked honestly about that, I’d be very worried about our ability to pull something off in a place that’s as challenging as that nexus of Iraq and Syria.”

He also warned the government has to think about how the humanitarian, military and diplomatic pieces fit together.

“If it’s being done now, this is the time to tell Canadians that people have thought about that. Because if it hasn’t been done, we’ll get the same ultimately disappointing results that audit points to on Afghanistan.”

David Mulroney warns Canada should apply Afghanistan’s lessons to Iraq – Politics – CBC News.

And a good short interview with him in the Globe:

 How would you characterize the tension between diplomats and political staffers nowadays?

The truth is that public servants now serve a concierge function. They get difficult things done on the basis of careful instruction. So you focus on managing events, like visits, and then you report back to headquarters, but then you feel increasingly bullied. By the end of my career I’d written the same report on Sino-Canadian relations a dozen times. It was time to go.

In what specific way did Ottawa make you feel discouraged?

On the [Chinese social media site] Weibo we hosted a discussion about the case of Lai Changxing, [a fugitive to whom Canada gave refuge].

The other was about the official car I drove, which generated a real discussion about how what kind of accountability officials should be held to.

But there was complete silence from Ottawa, the kind that indicates disapproval. There was nothing they could hold against us because there were too many positives, including two editorials in The Globe. In the end though we turned the way embassies communicate on their head.

David Mulroney on pandas, the PM and Chinese-Canadian relations

Harper inadequate, inconsistent on China, former adviser says

Former Canadian Ambassador to Beijing, and Foreign Policy Advisor to PM, David Mulroney on the Harper Government. Picks up many of the same themes in my book Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism (disclosure David is a former colleague of mine):

David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, says Canada should boost its economic and diplomatic ties with China and even reinforce its naval presence off the west coast to show its serious about being a player in the region.

But Harper has failed to show adequate leadership and has been wildly inconsistent, with periods of estrangement and hostility followed by flurries of activity to try to woo Beijing, according to the ex-diplomat.

Government policy is too often directed by political partisans with “extreme ideological” agendas, who are motivated only by the goal of winning votes in immigrant communities in Canada.

“We need leadership from the top,” writes Mulroney, who was named Harper’s senior foreign and defence policy adviser when the Conservatives took power in 2006.

His book Middle Power, Middle Kingdom, to be published later this month by Penguin Canada, is likely to be controversial. His concern about Chinese money boosting housing costs in cities like Vancouver, reported in Tuesday’s Vancouver Sun, led to number of readers to contact The Sun sharing those concerns.

Mulroney, now at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, is particularly critical of Canadian prime ministers — and especially Harper — who have used foreign policy to win favour with diaspora groups within Canada.

He said political leaders in countries such as India and China are decidedly unimpressed when a prime minister shows up with Canadian MPs returning to their, or their ancestors’, country of origin.

He said Harper is treating foreign leaders as “mere props” participating in “photo opportunities” aimed at ethnic media back in Canada.

“It would be naive and undemocratic to argue that domestic politics has no place in our foreign policy,” he writes. “But political leaders need to rely on something more than the most recent polling data in navigating international issues.”

Mulroney also challenges the Harper government’s “increasing preference” for rhetoric — “the more extreme the better” — over behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

“The resulting ‘megaphone diplomacy’ is gratifying to some audiences at home, but it erodes and undercuts whatever real influence Canada might have had.”

He says Canada’s approach to China needed an overhaul when the Liberals were ousted in 2006, as the Liberal “Team Canada” trade mission strategy had become outdated. Mulroney also argues that China’s human rights violations were becoming increasingly problematic for Canadians, and that the federal Liberal party under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin was “equally unbalanced on the side of unwarranted optimism and uncritical acceptance” of China.

And he in no way underplays China’s dark side, pointing out that China aggressively spies in Canada.

And Beijing also undermines long-standing work by Canada and other western countries in promoting democratic values in developing countries.

“China does support odious regimes, and it is a challenger of the liberal international order.”

The author, who notes that Harper and many of his ministers and aides have long treated Canadian diplomats as “incompetent and politically unreliable” closet Liberals, also acknowledges that some of his foreign service colleagues aren’t faultless.

“They contributed to this caricature through their own inability to fully respect the concerns that motivated the newly elected government.”

But he says Conservative mistrust of its bureaucratic advisers went to strange lengths, and cites the close relationship between former Foreign Minister John Baird and China’s former ambassador to Canada, Zhang Junsai.

Baird was unusually candid with the diplomat about Canada’s objectives — a frankness which wasn’t reciprocated — and the two consulted closely during and after Baird’s trips to China while senior Canadian diplomats were left out.

My favourite line:

“It was as if it was more damning to be suspected of having liberal sympathies than it was to actually be a Communist, and as if the Canadian government was intent on conducting foreign policy without its public service.”

via Harper inadequate, inconsistent on China, former adviser says.