Now that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has completed his successful visit to Canada, the work begins to implement promises and agreements made in Beijing and then in Ottawa to build a new era of enhanced engagement between Canada and China, and reap significant economic benefits.
There's something consistent about Beijing's official verbiage when trade talk is in the air.
As the Chinese ambassador put it in his speech to the Manitoba-International Business Forum, "the bond of friendship and co-operation between China and Canada has been growing stronger." During his visit, the Premier "expressed the readiness of the Chinese government to work together with the new Canadian leadership in cultivating a richer and more substantive partnership of all round co-operation between the two countries." He continued: "China and Canada should work together to bring their economic partnership to a higher level," explaining "China is planning to import more from Canada" so as to "double the volume of two-way trade by 2010."
Wait – did he say 2010?
Déjà vu all over again! That Manitoba speech was given in 2003 by previous Chinese ambassador Mei Ping, after Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Canada. Then, in 2005, President Hu Jintao came to Canada, and with Prime Minister Paul Martin jointly announced a China-Canada "strategic partnership," again promising doubling of trade – this time in just five years. (In fact, due to the global economic crisis of 2008, trade levels briefly actually dipped.)
Now fast-forward to last week, and Premier Li Keqiang joins Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in announcing that trade will double by 2025. Hope springs eternal.
In fact, Canada's benefits from this back-and-forth is often not substantive. For instance, we agreed that China would keep buying our canola seed for another four years, but then China simply manufactured a canola import "crisis" this summer, with its threat of the loss of $2-billion in annual trade, more or less using smoke and mirrors. The release of Kevin Garratt would have been a concession to us if Mr. Garratt had been a Canadian spy caught in the act. But he wasn't. His arrest and more than two years of torturous interrogation to elicit a false confession and harsh imprisonment was simply a Chinese Communist Party ploy.
On this visit, the Chinese Premier's agreement to meet annually with our Prime Minister implies good things for Canada, but Chinese premiers have a lot of demands competing for their time. That schedule may be hard to maintain, especially as China thinks that, this month, it has finally got Ottawa's acquiescence to its four main long-time asks of Canada.
First, Canada agreed to invest in China's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The U.S. urged us to keep out of it because this institution functions to increase China's geopolitical reach in the region by meting out generous loans that lack the assurances of labour rights, environmental protection and economic transparency and accountability that the U.S.-backed World Bank requires these days.
Second, it appears Canada will likely build the pipeline to get our oil sands product into Chinese tankers, the Kinder Morgan proposal being the most likely contender.
Third, Ottawa appears amenable to removing the restrictions of Stephen Harper government on Chinese state investment in Canada's resource and energy sector, and building associated infrastructure using Chinese labour. This is despite polls showing very strong opposition by Canadians.
Fourth, statements by Premier Li suggest Beijing clearly expects that a Canada-China extradition treaty is forthcoming. This is most unfortunate for us. Even in the unlikely event that Canada signed such a treaty, there is no way our courts would agree to send Chinese fugitives, who are on the outs with China's current political establishment, to face tortured interrogation, the subsequent televised confessions, show trials and uncertain fate in incarceration.
Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms remains in force even for Chinese citizens living in Canada with huge unexplained wealth. So when it dawns on the Chinese authorities that none of the people they so desperately want back will be despatched by us to Beijing in shackles, watch for considerably more illegal Chinese state security agents operating in Canada to get these people back home through coercion and deception. And say goodbye to the "building friendship and mutual trust" that the Chinese put so much stock in in their reset relations with Mr. Trudeau and his government.
But China overall should be very happy with Canada after two successful official visits between Beijing and Ottawa. And this is certainly better for Canada than an unhappy China. Premier Li is said to be on the wrong side of a political factional dispute inside the Communist Party that may come to a head at the party congress next month, so this should be all good for him personally, too. But, in the longer term, for Prime Minister Trudeau perhaps not so much.