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Jones: What’s the ultimate objective of Harper’s softer stance on China?

By: /
25 July, 2011
By: Bruce Jones
Director and Senior Fellow of the NYU Center on International Cooperation

Selling Canadian goods and services to the Chinese market. Along with every western country out there. He’s right, for two reasons.

First, although we don’t know exactly what produces change in authoritarian states, there’s good evidence that free trade and integration to the global economy helps. China is grappling with the question of how to marry it’s market economic system with a political system still largely dominated by the Communist party (although with input now from the private sector.) China optimists take the view that China will find it’s own logic for resolving those tensions by moving towards democratic political systems – but at their own pace, and in their own way. China pessimists think that the tensions will lead to a breakdown. Either way, if you’re keen on political liberation and human rights for China’s 1,000,000,000 citizens, free trade is the right step.

Second, those who would have Harper take a much tougher line on China’s human rights and non-democratic political system, have to answer two questions. Will it have an impact? The answer is almost certainly no. And, what’s the impact of alienating China just as it enters the global world? My fear is that if the West takes a tough line on these issues, all we’ll accomplish is building up Chinese nationalism, and their opposition to new roles in a responsible international order. That will make just about every international problem harder to solve, without having any discernible impact on China’s human rights. Where’s the gain in that?

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