Quotulatiousness

December 9, 2017

The Trudeau sideshow in China

Filed under: Cancon, China, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh on figuring out why Justin Trudeau’s trip to China didn’t end in the glory he and his handlers were clearly anticipating:

My favourite part of the fair has always been the sideshow. And when it comes to Justin Trudeau’s official visit to China, the sideshow definitely turned out to be the most interesting part of the proceedings. Interpreting the outcome of the visit involves a certain amount of old-fashioned Kremlinology, applied to both sides, but it seems fairly clear that Trudeau was gulled into providing Chinese leadership with some celebrity glamour in exchange for a big pile of nothing on Chinese-Canadian trade.

He came to China with hopes for progress on a future trade deal that would involve China accepting new labour, gender, and environment standards. But he collided with the newly aggressive Xi Jinping doctrine — a change in the official Chinese mood that insists on the country’s superpower status. China-watchers know that over the past year, in a process that culminated at the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress in October, China has become more explicit, and more chauvinist, in claiming to pursue an independent, indigenous alternative model of economic and social progress.

[…]

Western commentators on China have, for a long time, had an implicit vision of a re-emerging bipolar world, with China in the old place of Russia as an ideological challenger to Western democracies. Xi is taking them at their word. China’s aspirations are no longer to follow or imitate the West, but to out-compete it on its own terms, without any of the untidy, politically dis-unifying elements of Western life — independent universities, newspapers that aren’t trash, multiple political parties, and the like.

Given this background, Trudeau arguably arrived in China at exactly the wrong moment. Formal talks on a China-Canada free trade agreement would have been the first ever between China and a G7 country. It turned out that there was more value for Xi in slapping the hand of friendship. The Global Times, an organ of the party’s People’s Daily newspaper network, published a cranky English-language editorial in the midst of Trudeau’s visit.

The editorial attacked the “superiority and narcissism” of Canadian newspapers, as an alternative to jabbing the prime ministerial guest in the eye personally. But it is easy enough to read between the lines. “Trade between China and Canada is mutually beneficial, more significant than the ideology upon which the latter’s media has been focusing,” wrote the tabloid’s editor, Hu Xijin. “When Canada imports a pair of shoes from China, will Canada ask how much democracy and human rights are reflected in those shoes?”

If Trudeau had been hoping to wipe away memories of his embarrassing stunt at the TPP negotiations by a Pierre-Trudeau-like Chinese breakthrough, the Chinese government clearly saw him coming a few thousand miles away and ensured that no such PR coup would be allowed.

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