Bientôt fans, merci !
Pourquoi pas vous ?
Facebook J'aime Paris 1
Accueil » Institut Pierre Renouvin » Les revues » Le bulletin de l'Institut Pierre Renouvin » Tous les bulletins » Bulletin n° 10, Canada » Bernard M. Frolic, Six Observations about Sino-Canadian Relations since Tiananmen

Bernard M. Frolic, Six Observations about Sino-Canadian Relations since Tiananmen

Six Observations about Sino-Canadian Relations since Tiananmen



Bulletin n° 10, automne 2000





Bernard M. Frolic



Tiananmen is the most important event in Sino-Canadian relations since Canada established those relations in 1970. Is it too soon to be passing such a judgement ?

Other events have shaped the relationship over nearly 30 years. We need to remind ourselves of how Sino-Canadian relations developed after 1970. For example, in 1973, Pierre Elliot Trudeau and Zhou Enlai, at a historic meeting in Beijing, fixed the main parameters of the relationship. Invoking the sprit of Norman Bethune, the two leaders concluded major agreements in trade, consular matters, education, culture and immigration.

 For years afterwards the visit served as a benchmark for a raft of subsequent policy decisions. Most of the main policies and instrumentalities that would characterize and shape the new partnership were sanctioned during the Trudeau visit.

 Other major events in chronological order were: the Canadian decision to exclude Taiwan from the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the 1981 decision to establish a CIDA development assistance programme with China, the 1986 visit of Brian Mulroney to China the expulsion of three Canadian MPs from Beijing in 1992, and the 1994 Team Canada visit, headed by Jean Chretien. These are the events that mark the evolution and maturation of the bilateral relationship, giving it substance and structure.

 When in 1976 Canada took on both the United States and the International Olympic Committee in order to bar Taiwanese athletes from the Montreal Olympics, Canada was heavily criticized, if not vilified in both the domestic and international media. Trudeau's strict application of Canada's one-China policy reaffirmed Canada's commitment to the 1970 recognition formula. The exclusion of the Taiwan athletes was condemned «for bringing politics into sports». On the other hand, Canada's defiance of American pressure was popular and quietly praised The 1981 decision to create a Canadian development assistance programme for China was barely noticed at the time. Concern was raised about giving aid to a communist state, and that it would be impossible to satisfy the needs of a country whose population would soon reach a billion people. Yet the CIDA China programme has become one of the most creative and important links between the two countries. After 20 years, well over a billion dollars in Canadian ODA funds have flowed to China and the programme serves as a model for Canadian ODA elsewhere.

 The 1986 visit of Brian Mulroney was significant because from the beginning of the bilateral relationship China policy had been a Liberal preserve (the short-lived Clark government had no time to deal with China policy). Now in 1986 the Conservatives, more openly critical of communism, more sympathetic to Taiwan, and less committed to state intervention, had come to Beijing. The result was a clear reaffirmation of the China policies of their Liberal predecessors and a surprising expansion of the role of the state in partnership with the PRC .

 In 1992, three federal MPs were expelled from China for aggressively challenging the regime on human rights. Their confrontation with Chinese authorities highlighted the frustration many Canadians felt after Tiananmen. The Chinese authorities were not responding to Canadian entreaties to soften their position on Tiananmen - even from Canadian elected officials. The expulsion suggested that there were limits to «direct action» in relations with the PRC, no matter how just the cause.

 In 1994, only two years later, Jean Chretien led the Team Canada mission of over 400 business representatives to Beijing and Shanghai. They signed contracts and memoranda of understanding worth $ 8.5 billion. This was almost 50 % higher than the entire two-way trade between the two countries in 1994. It was the most productive trade mission in Canadian history, and stood as the largest trade mission ever hosted by the PRC. The mission was a remarkable trade success and, for many, symbolized the full restoration of the bilateral relations that had been disrupted by Tiananmen six years earlier. Following the visit, Tim Reid, President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, observed that the trip was:

«A real landmark in the way Canada conducts itself internationally [...] a real partnership between the private sector and government ministries and officials [...] This is a clear statement that Canada wants to be a player in a serious way» .

 These were all key events in the construction and development of our China policy and our relationship with the PRC over close to three decades. They defined policy, institutionalized the relationship, and created new dimensions of partnership. They determined the basic structure and direction of the relationship and each made a major contribution to it. They were all «events of significance». But in retrospect, none have the dramatic impact of Tiananmen. None affected so many Canadians publicly, beyond the small China policy community. None has changed our image of China as rapidly, nor as deeply. After ten years, it is fair to make such an assessment, even if acknowledging that our judgement may be affected by the closeness of the event.


When Tiananmen happened, the Canadian response was sharp, quick, and critical of China.


The events of April - June of 1989 are well known, as is the general response by the international community. In Canada's case, a special crisis management team was set up by the government on May 14. This three-man group worked full-time, round the clock until July. It reported directly to the Secretary of State for External Affairs (now the Minister of Foreign Affairs). Its first priority was to ensure the safety of Canadians in China. The second task was to calibrate the Canadian response to June 4. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) organized consultation with the wider community, in particular holding a series of meetings with Chinese community organizations across Canada, with business groups in the major cities, and finally through the convening of a national Round Table. On June 22, the Round Table met in Ottawa to discuss the situation and Canada's response. The forty individuals represented four «estates», each with a particular interest in China: business and traders, representatives from the Canadian Chinese community, academics and professional China watchers, officials from governmental and quasi-governmental organizations.

 The business community appeared to speak with one voice, saying, «Let there be business with China as usual. Economically it is in our interest and in Canada's to maintain trade links and investment». The large grain dealers pointed out that one of every three Canadian farmers receive his income from grain sales to China. The last thing any Canadian government wanted to do was alienate the Western farm vote or jeopardize a market that had been built up since 1960. As one participant observed, «why punish our farmers and the ordinary Chinese who will be eating our grain?». The strongest advocates for punishing the PRC turned out to be the representatives of Chinese community organizations. The 500,000 plus Canadian Chinese community appeared embarrassed, angry and appalled at what had happened. Their representatives sought strong sanctions against the PRC and assistance for the nearly 8,000 students and scholars from the PRC who could find themselves politically stranded in Canada.

 The academics were a mixed group. Mainly political scientists and historians, in the small world of Canadian sinology, many had served as sinologists in the Beijing Embassy. Their views were known to the government, and the government's position (and options) were familiar to them. This group advocated limited sanctions that conveyed Canadian anger and dismay but would not disrupt the relations that had been carefully constructed since 1970. They had a stake in maintaining the partnership, with the hope that their knowledge of China and past connections with its leaders would help mediating the situation. A smaller number of academics, some scarred by having witnessed the events, having close Chinese friends whose fate was unknown, or having participated in the evacuation of Canadians from the PRC, wanted stronger actions.

 It is harder to categorize the views of the representatives from Canadian governmental and quasi-governmental organizations. They had the most immediate stake in the China relationship because they were administering programmes that could be disrupted. Big budgets and the goodwill that had been carefully nurtured were under threat. Policies designed to draw China into the world community now appeared in jeopardy. Yet, a number of these officials were willing to apply sanctions and «downsize» programmes that had become too expensive and seemed to be benefiting China far more than Canada. Even before Tiananmen, the glamour of yet one more China trip had been wearing off and ministries and departments had increasingly become reluctant to host Chinese delegations, who took up their time and offered little in return.

How could the government convey its outrage in a credible way? Was it possible to "punish" the old reactionaries of Beijing while maintaining Canadian links with the PRC? While one or two individuals talked about withdrawing the Ambassador, this was not considered to be a real option. The policy that did emerge on June 30, was designed to appease the most vociferous critics of China, to offer a public defence of human rights, and to maintain diplomatic and commercial relations, though not quite «business as usual»:

«The government will preserve existing linkages; focus on people-to-people exchange; avoid programmes which will benefit the hard-line leaders of China; defer high-level contacts with the Chinese government; withdraw from several large development assistance programmes; hold back implementation of four of five ODA agreements about to be signed; suspend participation in the Three Gorges Project; review Canada's $ 2 billion line of credit for China; suspend government funding for PRC-hosted trade shows; extend student visas for Chinese students in Canada; establish a major programme for assisting PRC students and scholars currently in Canada; evaluate Canadian support of celebratory visits, such as symphony orchestras, on a case-by-case basis».

 Once the government had announced its policy which was more of a rebuke, rather than an angry outcry, demands to punish China subsided. The Canadian official reaction was as strong as that of any other Western nation. At the time, Canadian government officials took pride in observing that the Canadian response was in advance of most other countries, especially the Americans. As one of the crisis management teams put it, «We were in the vanguard here. All the big Western countries and Japan were watching us. Was there any other country whose ambassador went home for consultations? Did any other nation have a stronger reaction?» . Canadian public opinion seemed satisfied. In fact, the subsequent granting of Canadian immigrant status to those Chinese who wanted to stay was rightly perceived as an extraordinary gesture. The fact that the Canadian Ambassador had returned for consultations, that a number of large projects had been stopped, and that high level visits had been suspended - these were viewed as strong actions by the Government. Public opinion seemed satisfied with the Canadian reaction. The expectation for many was that it was only a matter of time before the current Chinese regime would be replaced and/or the Chinese government would accept public blame for what happened.

 In fact, the Chinese leaders were unmoved by Western declarations of sanctions. Once this was apparent, Western governments, including Canada, began to drift from strict adherence to sanctions. The practicalities of maintaining a bilateral relationship gradually took precedence. Development assistance projects were resumed after only a few months' hiatus. High level visits remained suspended, but high level contacts were maintained «on the margins», i.e., at international meetings (where Mr.Clark could engage his Chinese counterpart) and in unofficial secret meetings (such as the visit of American presidential advisor Brent Scowcroft to Beijing shortly after Tiananmen). Economic and commercial activity continued, and government-backed funding in support of this trade remained in effect. Six months after Tiananmen it was possible to discern two rather opposing trends. On the one hand, events such as the collapse of communism in East Europe now occupied the Canadian public's attention: the front pages and the television screens were focussed elsewhere. Public attention to Tiananmen faded. On the other hand, a number of Canadians were angry at the «slippage» that had occurred between the good intentions of the June 30 statement condemning China, and the realities of maintaining a day to day relationship with the PRC. The perception was that policy makers, the business community and the administrators of our China programmes had weakened what had initially been a sharp, quick and critical government response. This group was determined to keep the pressure on China's leaders and on the Canadian government to uphold the spirit, if not the letter, of the June 30 statement.


Tiananmen widened the Canadian policy making process and brought new players into the system.


Before Tiananmen, Sino-Canadian relations had a fixed cast of players, a small group of Ottawa-based policy makers and officials administering programmes. China policy was rarely debated since the major political parties were generally in agreement over the basic direction of Canadian China policy . Strategic initiatives in the development of the bilateral relationship were driven by DFAIT and a few key policy advisors, taking into account what was likely to be acceptable to the leaders of a country that was slowly opening up to the outside world. The context was one of engagement (before the term was popularized by the Americans) and incrementalism - the steady expansion of Canadian - PRC relations and their institutionalization. Those who were responsible for constructing this relationship were fully aware that China was an authoritarian political system, just beginning to emerge from a Leninist cocoon. Human rights were not on their agenda: the perception was that given China's recent past (the Cultural Revolution), its urgent economic needs and its political isolation, human rights (and democracy) were not yet negotiable within the relationship .

 When the Conservatives came to power in 1984 they set in motion a number of developments that would affect the China policy process by the end of the decade. First, they were more critical of communism than their predecessors and thus more ready to be critical of China's human rights record. The Conservatives had been successful in confronting the South African government over its apartheid policies and were willing to extend this strategy to other areas. Domestically, the Conservatives appealed to the ethnic constituencies by being more inclusive than their Liberal predecessors in the foreign policy making process, opening up venues for advocacy group participation. Finally, the new political leaders, as a matter of course, challenged their public servants to re-examine policies. More than that, in the short run they questioned most of the advice given by the bureaucracy, in effect challenging the political-bureaucratic nexus that had been making policy for almost the entire period of Sino-Canadian relations.

 The coming to power of the Conservatives might have partially changed the course of our China policy making process, but it was Tiananmen that widened the process and brought new players into the system. Who were these new players? We can identify four groups: activists representing Canadian Chinese community interests, advocacy groups critical of China's human rights record, the wider public community, and the electronic and print media.

 We can say with confidence that Tiananmen marked the political maturation of a significant segment of the Canadian Chinese community . Canadians of Chinese origin traditionally had shunned politics and encounters with the Canadian government, with a few exceptions, such as immigration matters and the recognition of the PRC . Chinese preferred to be marginal participants in the political process, only occasionally coalescing around an issue of special concern to the community. That changed in 1989 to the extent that Chinese in significant numbers expressed their criticism of the PRC and canvassed the government to do something. It changed also because the government actively solicited their views (a Conservative policy) and set up venues where Chinese groups could be consulted. From 1989 on no major Canadian policy initiative involving China would take place without the participation of the Chinese .

 A second constituency that emerged during Tiananmen as a legitimate player in the formulation of China policy comprised advocacy groups seeking to change China's human rights policies. Encouraged by the Conservative Party policy of greater inclusion and of the promotion of human rights as an instrument of foreign policy, these groups, like the Chinese community groups, became regular participants in the consultative process that emerged during Tiananmen. In the period following the Beijing massacre, support for such organizations rose quickly. Where representatives from Amnesty International rarely had been consulted over China policy in the past, they now attended all such meetings. This writer recalls how at a series of China consultations from 1989-1993, it was the human rights groups who suddenly commanded attention and focussed the discussion on our human rights record in dealing with the PRC.

 Tiananmen also brought the public more directly into the China policy making process. Fifty-two consecutive days of televised images from Beijing had provided citizens with a new awareness of China. They saw a morality play unfolding, in which the Evil Prince turned out to be an apparent winner. Views of China changed substantially, from a vague sense of exoticism before the massacre, to a view of a harsh authoritarian regime led by aging leaders who killed their own citizens. Public opinion had radically shifted. The public no longer could be counted on as a passive supporter of the government's China policy. The tight political-bureaucratic nexus had widened to include a range of opinions about China by citizens who would be critical in the first instance. For politicians and bureaucrats the rules of the China policy game had permanently been altered.

 Finally, we need to identify the changed role of the Canadian electronic and print media. Prior to Tiananmen, the media either ignored China or gave it the benefit of the doubt. It is true that the media over the years had criticized China more strongly than most other Canadian constituencies. There was good reason for this, especially from the Beijing-based Globe and Mail correspondents who were constantly harassed by Chinese security personnel over the years . Yet, in the 1980's, the media's picture of China tended to be that of a country struggling to emancipate itself from an authoritarian past. The media scenario prior to Tiananmen was that China was about to liberalize politically along with its socialist brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe and Russia. Tiananmen was a media event when it happened and it remained an event for the media in its aftermath. Since Tiananmen we have not given China the benefit of the doubt. There is almost no China story that does not have a critical tone to it. In the recent period the media's criticism has abated - in good part because the Tiananmen story has become «old news». But its image of China remains critical and thus the media has provided a changed context by the images it provides us of China and in what we read or hear about the regime.

 In the case of the media, Tiananmen transformed an «old player» within the China policy community. For Canadians of Chinese origin, however, this was an opportunity to take on a new role in the process. The public, a passive spectator before 1989, now became a real player, and the human rights activists, formerly on the margins, suddenly found themselves in the middle of it all.


Tiananmen changed how we think of China, but it did not alter the basic structure or the rationale behind the bilateral relationship.


After Tiananmen, the Canadian government sought to rebuild ties in a way that preserved fundamental objectives of maintaining economic and trade links and of «engaging» China - while simultaneously expressing official and public outrage over the events of 1989 . This policy was difficult to sustain because of its inherent contradictions and Canada drifted in the 1990's, uncertain how best to proceed. Two-way trade initially declined in 1990, rose substantially in 1992, only to drop again in 1993. Frustrated over their country's inability to engage China on human rights, especially over the harsh penalties meted out to the student demonstrators, some Canadians resorted to «megaphone diplomacy». This culminated in the ignominious expulsion of three federal MPs from China in early 1992 after they had vigorously challenged their hosts on human rights. In the early 1990's the government considered «linking» the funding of new aid projects to stipulated improvements in China's human rights record. While linkage had considerable emotional support among Canadians, the government concluded that it would reduce opportunities for engaging China and would most likely damage trade without necessarily advancing democracy or human rights. 

From 1992 onwards the human rights agenda was consciously softened and directed into more manageable initiatives such as legal reform and support to human rights. Commercial activities became the focus of policy. The Canadian Ambassador in Beijing noted at the time:

«How could I have been spending much time on public affairs activities? [...] ever since May (92) I've been involved almost full-time in commercial matters [...] the number of Canadian (business) visitors seems to be doubling by the week [...] Is this how trends affect policy? [...] One deals with public relations only when nothing more immediate is at hand?»

 After the Liberals again took office in 1993, the trend towards the maximization of trade became more pronounced. High level visits, suspended after Tiananmen, resumed and this served to restore most of the structure, if not the spirit, of the pre-1989 relationship. The 1994 Team Canada visit can be viewed as the official event that «restored» the relationship. While many Canadians remained uncomfortable with China's human rights record and with the PRC's unwillingness to condemn its own actions at Tiananmen, the visit of Team Canada, headed by the Prime Minister, was an acknowledgement that after six years, relations had «normalized».

 The Team Canada concept was not universally applauded by Canadians. Andrew Coyne noted that Canada «managed to excuse the Chinese government's unfortunate habit of torturing and murdering dissidents to underwrite its nuclear ambitions with two new Canadian reactors and to implicate this country in a colossal environmental disaster in the making, the Three Gorges Dam» . Later, in 1995, in Beijing, delegates at an international women's rights conference criticized Canada for paying lipservice to women's programmes while «wasting Canadian money on big, male-dominated trade extravaganzas such as the Team Canada trip».

 But, these were minority views. For the most part Canadians accepted the economic realities of the Team Canada mission and the subordination of other policy objectives to the maximization of trade. The astounding success of the mission validated the Team Canada concept and it was henceforth utilized by the government as the main instrument for promoting better relations - not just with China but also with countries in Asia and Latin America. By 1995 Canadian relations with the PRC had improved to such a point that Li Peng, then Chinese premier, could visit Canada to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the bilateral relationship. The irony of welcoming Li, called the "Butcher of Beijing" because he allegedly gave the order to shoot unarmed citizens at Tiananmen, was not lost on some Canadians. But six years had passed since 1989, and his trip was carefully managed to keep him away from his critics. The City of Toronto protested that he was not welcome there "because of his appalling human rights violations" but he had not been scheduled to visit Toronto in any case. His trip was uneventful, in contrast to an earlier visit he had made to Germany where demonstrations had cut short his stay. In Canada, Li focussed on trade, although officials took pains to announce that Canada had repeatedly expressed its views on human rights and democracy to the Chinese Premier in both formal and informal conversations.

More recently, in 1999, China's new Premier, Zhu Rongji, visited Canada and was warmly received by the Prime Minister, senior officials and the business community. There were scattered demonstrations; however, the large majority of Canadians took no notice. Many of the activists seemed to have other agendas (Myanmar, Indonesia). The Chinese community generally supported the visit. Zhu Rongji was affable and understanding, giving the impression that he was someone who could distance himself from the Old Guard leaders. Zhu, unlike Li, was not accused of firing on unarmed civilians in 1989. While mayor of Shanghai, he had managed to avoid bloodshed. He had a reputation for efficiency and honesty, and could talk frankly about long term democratic change in China. Zhu disarmed many of his critics, who for now are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as the one Chinese leader who might yet restore their confidence in the regime.

 In 1999, the basic structure of our bilateral relationship is essentially the same as a decade earlier. All the old instrumentalities remain in place. High level visits continue to be one of the most important mechanisms for managing the relationship. The primary focus is economic, reinforced by a number of bilateral structures that promote trade, development assistance and general cooperation between the two countries. If someone living on Mars for the past decade now suddenly were to return to the Canadian China policy process, he would see familiar faces amidst familiar structures. But he would soon notice certain differences. The circle of participants in the China policy community is substantially wider. He would see more Canadians of Chinese origin in this circle. He would discover a number of programmes at CIDA and DFAIT focussing on governance, the rule of law and human rights. He might wonder how those programmes emerged.

 The rationale for our China relationship might also appear similar to what existed a decade ago. If we now are paying more attention to human rights and governance issues we do so within the context of our original primary goal: to develop a stronger economic and political relationship with the PRC. While recent debates over Canadian China policy are often phrased in terms of "trade versus human rights," usually disadvantaging the latter, we should not forget that our original purpose in establishing relations with the PRC in 1970 was not trade but politics .



Because of Tiananmen our China policy has paid more attention to human rights but not at the expense of trade or other strategic objectives.


This writer was recently in Beijing as part of a Canadian-funded programme to train staff of the National People's Congress on how to make legislation in the area of social policy. While there we bumped into a group that was training Chinese judges. Yet another group of Canadians was working with Chinese scholars studying democratic practices in the West and how they might apply to China. All these were CIDA-funded programmes that had evolved in the mid- 90's as a way of bringing human rights issues into the bilateral relationship in a less confrontational way.

 After Tiananmen, Canada scrambled to find a policy that could maintain the relationship while satisfying concerns over human rights practices in China. In the immediate aftermath of the June 30 Statement, there was an expectation that the Chinese government would recognize these concerns. But by its actions, and particularly with its harsh measures against the students, it was apparent that there could be no meaningful dialogue with the Chinese leadership. Lack of action turned into frustration and then confrontation. The government seriously considered adopting a policy of "linkage", whereby both trade and ODA would be linked to improvements in China's human rights record. But the business community strongly resisted; other Western countries had no intention of pursuing such a policy, and as a sanction, linkage was viewed by many as unenforceable. The Minister at the time, Barbara McDougall, took a strong position on human rights and instructed her advisors and DFAIT officials to find ways to bring the Canadian human rights agenda into the bilateral relationship, if not through linkage, then by other means. This policy suited Canadian interests initially, but soon pressures built up to "normalize" the relationship, in particular to restore high-level visits, which were viewed as necessary for maintaining relations with the PRC. The Minister resisted, long after most of her DFAIT officials were ready to "normalize" these relations. It was not until 1993 that these visits were restored.

 If linkage had proved unacceptable, direct action fared no better, ending with the expulsion of the three MPs from Beijing in 1992. The departure of Barbara McDougall from office, and election of a new Liberal government, marked a strategic change in Canadian policy. Canada henceforth took a more moderate stand on human rights, preferring a low-key, less confrontational approach. If it was impossible to change the system dramatically from the outside, perhaps one could do so incrementally from within, through bilateral programmes. The 1996 CIDA programme on human rights, democracy and good governance was designed to use soft, non-confrontational methods to establish long term projects that could change Chinese perceptions and practices. The results have been mixed: proponents say that this is the best way to open up China; critics argue that these programmes at best are tokenism, a way to buy off criticism with a few million dollars of taxpayer's money.

 Still, there have been some positive recent «soft» encounters between the two sides at the governmental level. In 1996, they met in Beijing to discuss human rights issues. The Chinese listened to Canadian concerns about the 14 year jail sentence meted out to Wei Jingsheng, China's best-known dissident, about the alleged deaths of hundreds of orphans in Shanghai, and about the kidnapping of Tibet's new Panchen Lama. Liu Hainan, Director of the Law Institute of China's Academy of Social Sciences, reminded the Canadians that, «the discussions need to be on an equal footing, rather than just accusing each others [...] It's like two neighbours. If you beat the children of your neighbour it is not possible to be neighbours with each other». These dialogues have continued, the most recent being in Vancouver in 1999.

 The metamorphosis of Raymond Chan may best serve as an example of the evolution and development of Canada's human rights agenda in China. Currently he is Secretary of State for Asia Pacific. In 1989 he was an activist vociferously challenging the Chinese leadership's actions. In 1991 he went to Beijing to confront authorities. The next year he was a key advisor to the three MPs who were expelled from China. Senator Pat Carney, a strong human rights supporter and someone who has spent considerable time in China, observes that in the course of Raymond Chan's evolution from activist to minister, his view of human rights has changed (along with Canada's policies in this area)

« I am remembering when Raymond Chan was simply a human rights activist before he was an MP and he and I and one Svend Robinson used to go and rabble-rouse on human rights [...] I asked him recently if his view of human rights had changed and he said yes, it had because in his position as Secretary of State for Asian Affairs (sic), he had found that in many cases human rights was just a code word for political action in some of these Asian countries and that in the view of the people with whom he was dealing, their view of human rights had nothing to do with what his view had been when he was out there demonstrating against Tiananmen Square» .

 If our human rights policies regarding China are not as dramatic as we might have wanted them to be, nor as immediately «effective», this should not distract us from noting that we now have institutionalized a human rights agenda within the bilateral relationship. We should also note that in our China relationship, rightly or wrongly, human rights is not Canada's first, nor even second, priority. In the first instance we are committed to «engaging» China and drawing it, politically and strategically, into the global community. We do not talk much about this objective, but it lies at the very heart of why we recognized the PRC, and what «higher purpose» we can achieve, in this case, helping China find its place in the modern world. This may be too lofty a goal for some, who see trade as the primary rationale for the relationship. Most discussions of our current relationship with the PRC focus on the need to balance our trade objectives with our more recent passion for human rights (basic economics, if you will, versus morality) . In these discussions trade emerges ascendant. But, in all fairness, we should note that what we are doing in the area of human rights with China now is significantly more than we have done before, and that while economic and political goals are our primary interest, the legacy of Tiananmen is that human rights policies and programmes now occupy an important part of our bilateral agenda.


Not everyone is satisfied with Canada's current China policy, but it is the best we can expect.


When we are discussing Canadian China policy ten years after Tiananmen, and we see that leaders responsible for the massacre never apologized, never admitted any wrongdoing and continue to violate human rights (based on Western criteria), it would be easy to say that today's policy has been a bad policy. That is not my intention in this paper. What I have sought to say is that our response to Tiananmen and the subsequent re-engagement with China has taken into account our changed perceptions of China since Tiananmen, and the realities of maintaining a bilateral relationship. Tiananmen was an event of great significance for all outside China to see. Its impact on Canada was profound. Tiananmen brought new participants into our China policy making process. It introduced a strong element of realism to our somewhat idealized views of what was happening inside the PRC. Tiananmen made us more aware of Canada's limited role in international affairs: we thought we had influence with China's leaders and discovered that we did not. Since the Trudeau visit in 1973, Canadians and Chinese had talked of a «special relationship», but in the aftermath of Tiananmen this special relationship seemed to have evaporated, if it ever really existed. One of Tiananmen's legacies is a small but growing bilateral programme in the area of human rights, principally managed by CIDA. Some view this as a positive start, others see this as a concession to the big business interests that in their view determine the course of the relationship and which pay little or no attention to moral considerations.

 The structure of the relationship survived short term disruptions such as the suspension of high level visits and a number of CIDA programmes. Ten years later it is intact: the same instruments, now supplemented by a human rights agenda, are in place. If the structures are the same, the spirit has changed. We no longer give China the benefit of the doubt and are much more critical of the PRC's policies. We know more about China and more of us have opinions about the PRC.

 Could we have pursued another policy, moved in a different direction? To break off diplomatic relations would have been an exceptional act, generally reserved for nations at war with one another. Could Canada have applied tougher sanctions? In my view this might have appeased some Canadians but in the absence of any concerted international sanctions would have had no discernible effect on the PRC. In any case, except for the case of South Africa (which was unusual) international sanctions rarely are perceived to be effective. Did other nations come up with better solutions? The Japanese briefly criticized the PRC and then resumed their regular relations. The Americans chose to take a moral high road and their relationship continues to wobble (though Tiananmen is only one of the reasons for this). Most other nations accepted the inevitable: that in the short run the Chinese were not going «to reverse their verdicts» and they were not going to accept foreign criticism of their human rights practices.

 So the China magic has worn off for Canadians. We must do the best we can, bit by bit, over time. We are just one of the players in the China game but by staying on the course and reminding the Chinese of who we are and in what we believe, we might make a small difference.