Free trade and a praying PM: Canada is front page news in China

- February 8th, 2012

I’ve travelled to a lot of spots around the world covering Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s international travels and I cannot recall him ever generating the kind of positive press he’s getting in this morning’s China Daily, the English-language state-run daily newspaper here.

A picture of Harper chatting with Chinese chess players during a visit Wednesday to the Temple of Heaven is the front-page top-of-the-fold main art here with a generally positive article about the two countries improving trade relationship. Inside, there’s two other pieces involving Canada and Harper.

You may not be surprised to hear that Canada rarely rates much of a mention in the local press even when a prime minister is visiting.

And as the China Daily reflects official government policy very closely, one could read this extraordinary coverage as evidence of the Chinese government’s warm approval of the Harper government’s new attention to the Chinese-Canadian commercial relationship.

In the page 1 story, Premier Wen Jiabao announces that China is now interested in having “feasibility talks” on a full-blown free trade agreement. That’s news back in Canada. Harper’s aides say here that we may hear the prime minister speak to this issue later today. [UPDATE: International Trade Minister Ed Fast told reporters "Let's not get ahead of ourselves." In his speech, Harper would only go this far: "Canada and China will proceed  to exploratory discussion on further deepening our economic relations.]

Inside, there’s a story about the visit of the prime minister and his wife to the Temple of Heaven, a shrine built in 1420 in downtown Beijing. The China Daily reporter covering the story quotes Zhang Yonglai “a visitor from Shandong Province” saying, “I think Mr. Harper is … here to pray for a promising year for his country.” The reporter tells his readers: “What amazed tourists at the site most was Harper’s casual walk through a lobby at the east end of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.”

Read between the lines here and China’s government is approvingly showing Canada’s prime minister to be a decent, pious individual deserving of China’s friendship and support.

That’s a sharp contrast to the China Daily‘s coverage of Harper’s 2009 visit. There was front-page coverage then too — of how Premier Wen dressed down Harper for letting the China-Canada relationship languish. The narrative in 2009 was that the Canadian prime minister was a wayward supplicant coming to China to seek forgiveness for his sins. Not this time: He is being profiled in the press as the leader “of a strong delegation of five ministers and 40 business leaders” who, along with Wen, witnessd “the signing of nine deals.”  The reader of the China Daily on this Harper visit is meant to be impressed.

Then, on the front page of the paper’s business section, there’s the third story, headlined: “Chinese companies urged to increased investment in Canada.” The politically savvy manager or CEO of a Chinese business will not miss the message: The Communist politburo bosses are directing Chinese companies to get to the Great White North post-haste. Here’s the lede paragraph: “Chinese companies should intensify their drive to invest in Canada, especially in the energy sector, as there are tremendous opportunities, an official from the Ministry of Commerce said.”

In Canada, if we reported that a government official said, for example, “Canadian companies must boost their productivity”, that would be interpreted as a government pleading with corporate Canada to pay attention to an economic problem. It’s quite different here. The “official from the Minister of Commerce” sourced in the China Daily is giving corporate China its marching orders.

“Chinese enterprises could make forays into or add investment in the categories of coal, iron ore, and potash manure,” China Daily reports, quoting that official.

“We can feel that the Canadian government welcomes Chinese investment without setting any restrictions,” the official continues. Message to Chinese investors: Harper’s got your back if you want to get rich investing in Canada.

And just how are Chinese CEOs expected to go about this? The Chinese official has some advice:

“I strongly suggest that they partner with their local counterparts and create jobs in the local market to ensure the success of these deals.”

It’s no wonder then that Harper is in China with 40 senior executives from the Canadian “local partners” like Shell, Enbridge, Bombardier, Canadian Oil Sands Trust, Cenovus and others. Those execs are explaining this week Chinese CEOs just how easy it is to put Chinese money into their businesses.

 

Categories: Economy, Politics

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10 comments

  1. Hal K says:

    Selling us out to a fascist/totalitarian regime .

  2. Durward says:

    Free Trade with China? WTF?
    Has China quit murdering it’s citizens since Conservatives came to power?
    Have they ceased persecuting religion?, Granted free speech?
    Dropped the one party state dictatorship?
    What guarantees did Harper get that they would improve..Nah scratch that, adopt a free democracy style of governing along with rights and freedoms?!
    Unless he got that then dealing with the communists is aiding and abetting the enemy of all free people.
    Painting red shyte blue don’t make it right David.

  3. frank says:

    whatever happened to the foreign policy principles of:
    pm.gc.ca/eng/media.asp?id=1329
    freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law

  4. bettie says:

    Thanks for this, David. It’s interesting to read details such as this of our Prime Minister’s visit. He acts with confidence, and gives one pride in how he comports himself on the world stage. It sounds like Canada is accomplishing a lot during this visit. I watched ‘The National’ tonight to see what they would say of his trip, and it’s coverage was barely there. The ‘At Issue’ panel spent their whole time on OAS and how poorly Mr. Harper had handled it… with many snide remarks from Peter.

  5. Craig Smith says:

    @Durward:

    China hasn’t stopped murdering its citizens but Saddam Hussein has. I’m sure you supported George Bush on that endeavor. Don’t be such a partisan hypocrite. Good job Harper and thanks Mr. Akin for reporting it – God knows it won’t be by the other major players.

  6. John says:

    They are being nice to us because they have something we want. OIL. We ship the bitumen to them, they refine and consume it.

  7. Martin says:

    A lot of people would jump down the govenment’s throat for this, but I would praise them.

    The Soviet Union didn’t collapse because we cut it off and shut it out, it collapsed in part because their citizens saw what the west had, and wanted it.

    More and more China is modifying its policies and more and more freedom is being afforded to its citizens. Economic strength and freedom begets individual strength and freedom.

    Compare that with an isolated Cuba still mired in 1960′s communisim…

  8. albertaclipper says:

    @John: You forgot one little thing in your comment. They PAY for it.

    Great report David!! Nice to read positive comments about Harper’s visit.

  9. Gabby in QC says:

    This is in reply to Frank @ February 8, 2012 at 10:39 pm.

    As I posted elsewhere, with some revisions …
    The opposition and some of their media cronies only oppose for the sake of opposing, thinking their topsy-turvy positions will lend them some relevance and credibility.

    Our PM was criticized for speaking openly about the issue of human rights when he first became PM.
From a Nov. 2006 CTV News story entitled Harper discusses human rights with Vietnamese PM:

    “… The Chinese have sent a very strong message to Canada — that they’re not very happy with the way the Tory government has shown its support for the Dalai Lama and taken a stand on human rights in China.
    [Erik Kuhonta, professor of political science at McGill University] said Harper appears to be veering away from the traditional foreign policy of Canada, which was much more subtle and discussed only trade issues in public. …”

    In that report, the CTV’s Roger Smith referred to “… alleged persecution of religious groups and alleged dissidents …” — implying those persecutions and dissidents were a matter of opinion rather than fact.

    Then in an August 2008 Ottawa Citizen article entitled Harper has messed up relations with China: Chrétien, former PM Chretien was quoted:

    “Stephen Harper made a political blunder by failing to attend the Olympic opening ceremonies in China, Jean Chrétien charged yesterday as he denounced the sitting prime minister for burning bridges and undoing decades of goodwill between the two countries with his swipes at the emerging superpower. …

    “I would have been at the Olympics myself,” said Mr. Chrétien, who also lambasted the government for alienating the Chinese by bestowing honorary Canadian citizenship on the Dalai Lama of Tibet. …”

    The criticism for supposedly advancing human rights to the detriment of promoting trade with the Chinese continued. In 2009, John Ibbitson, among others, wrote an article entitled China publicly scolds Harper for taking too long to visit. The media seemed to enjoy China’s scolding of our PM — their interpretation — for taking so long before visiting, for not kow-towing to China’s leaders.

    So now that the PM is once again visiting China and ably balancing both the business and human rights aspects, as he has tried to do all along, the opposition wants the issue of human rights to be paramount.

    “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
    Albert Einstein
    From brainyquote.com

  10. Cooperation not conflict is the key to relations. Understanding of differences and acceptance of those differences goes a long way in making relationships work. This is true for both sides. Westerners need to try to understand the Asian mentality, Asians also need an understanding of western thinking and attitudes.

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