[LINK] "Provinces forging relations with China out of the spotlight"
The Globe and Mail's Adam Radwanski describes an emergent class of foreign policy initiatives at the sub-national level in Canada, in this case, individual provinces making direct connections with China and letting Ottawa deal with controversial issues.
“I represent a province that is three things to China,” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty recently proclaimed, fresh off a plane in Shanghai. “A partner, a friend and a member of the family.”
It was the sort of line that might make some Canadians cringe – not least a few in Stephen Harper’s federal government, which came to office with noticeable antipathy toward the People’s Republic. Even Jean Chrétien, among the most China-friendly Western leaders when he was prime minister, probably wouldn’t have thought it a good idea to use the word “family” while paying one of his visits.
But for Mr. McGuinty, it wasn’t a big deal. He travelled to China unencumbered by perceived responsibilities when it comes to human rights, even as the controversy over jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo made international headlines. “That’s not really what I’m there for,” he said in an interview. “We have a national government that can speak to those issues. What I can do is move in and speak specifically to trade issues, keeping things on a positive footing.”
[. . . A]s national leaders, Mr. Harper and his senior ministers can’t escape questions about Tibet, or jailed dissidents, or the seemingly drier (but highly sensitive) matter of whether China’s currency should be allowed to float on the global market. The potential to cause offence is stratospheric, and caution is required in every communication.
Provincial politicians – whether it’s Mr. McGuinty or the three westernmost premiers, who visited ensemble earlier this year – don’t have that problem.
If invited into one of the “thornier issues,” Mr. McGuinty said in the interview, “I will do my very best to go around it.”
On his recent trip, Mr. McGuinty was able to bypass Beijing, where there’s the most potential for trouble. Through stops in Shanghai and Nanjing, alongside provincial governors at formal luncheons or teachers and administrators at a middle school, he was never forced off script.
That he had it relatively easy was impossible to miss at what had to be one of the strangest speaking engagements of Mr. McGuinty’s career, at an “executive leadership academy” which appears to be a sort of finishing school for up-and-coming Communist Party officials. At a question-and-answer session at which students were encouraged to ask whatever they wanted, a federal minister would have been pressed on Canada’s view of how China conducts its internal affairs. But the closest Mr. McGuinty came was when he was asked to speculate about the depreciation of the yuan. True to his promise to get around such things, he explained that if he were to offer “any dramatic public commentary here,” he would get in “serious trouble” back home.