Nossal: What’s the ultimate objective of Harper’s softer stance on China?
Director of the Centre for International and Defence Policy, Queen's University
John Baird’s “new era” in Canada-China relations is really just a belated discovery of the wisdom of an “older era.” The Harper government has finally recognized that its unidimensional China policy – consisting of always taking a “principled” approach – came at a significant cost. Internationally, Canada found itself increasingly sidelined in the Asia Pacific. Domestically, a principled policy won few plaudits but attracted considerable criticism, including from Canadians of Chinese descent angered by Harper’s pointed refusal to travel to Beijing to celebrate the 2008 Olympics. Baird’s new approach, while too effusive for some (China is now a Canadian ally? Seriously?), seems designed to put a little more “multidimensionality” back into the relationship. His promise to pursue both values and interests at the same time is a pragmatic recognition that all international relations, but particularly those with a power like China, involve trade-offs that invariably mess with fine principles.