Greg Autry

Fighting for space, not over it.

Canada: Democracy with Chinese Characteristics?

I traveled to Ottawa this weekend to attend the Free Thinking Film Festival. I had been invited to speak after a screening of Death by China, a film directed by Peter Navarro and based on my book with him. The timing was prescient as China is a topic of great debate in Canada these days with two major issues:

1.The attempted purchase of Canadian Oil firm, Nexen, by the Chinese state exploration company, CNOOC.

2. The adoption of a new Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) that would grant Chinese firms a variety of special privileges in Canadian markets in exchange for promises of fairer treatment of Canadian companies struggling in totalitarian China.

The festival crowd was a diverse, intelligent and informed group of all ages, ethnicities and politics. The thing they had in common was a love of liberty and support for human dignity. Not one of them appeared to support either of these insane ideas. In fact, it appears that almost no Canadian, outside of those who will directly benefit, supports them. A recent poll shows Canadians against the CNOOC-Nexen takeover and a whopping 78% opposing the transfer of natural resources to a foreign government.

However, on the subject of China, the government of Stephen Harper has grown uniquely out of sync with public opinion. The conservative Prime Minister gained my admiration and that of human rights advocates world-wide with his bold decision to personally boycott the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony (That celebration of totalitarian state capitalism was preceded by a wave of Chinese hacking into IOC, the Montreal based World Anti-Doping Agency and several national Olympic committees that probably include Canada.).

After that good start, Canada’s China policy went downhill faster than Lindsey Vonn, culminating in the PM’s ill-conceived February meeting with the infamous party boss of Chongqing, Bo Xilai. While human rights advocates publicly warned Mr. Harper to avoid this scandal-plagued thug, the ignominious meeting actually took place just as Wang Lijun, Bo’s top cop, fled to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu in fear for his life. While Harper was breaking bread with Bo, Wang was spilling his guts on the murder of UK businessman, Neil Heywood by Bo’s jet-setting wife. It appears that Wang also detailed a horrific organ harvesting and body selling business as well.

Mr. Harper now seems peculiarly eager to complete the Chinese oil patch buyout and trade agreement through a secretive process without legislative debate, in-spite of vocal public opposition. This is a political process more fitting of the cadres in Zhongnanhai (commie party HQ) than parliamentarians in Ottawa.

I’m left to speculate on the cause of Harper’s about-face, which mirrors that of several recent U.S. presidents. I would like to imagine that fault lies not with the PM, but with a poor choice in China advisors (the ones who set him up with Bo). As is the case in the U.S., a distressing number of Canadian officials move between government service and lucrative work with China, Inc. or Western firms that do its bidding. It’s become very obvious to anyone working in a Western government that the best public retirement plan is to join Henry Kissinger as a “friend of China” (LOL) and at very least to never offend the sensitive Communist Party. Perhaps the Prime Minister changed advisors or a previously credible staff has been co-opted by the Chinese via the usual tactics of buyout or blackmail. Or, maybe they caved to constant pressure from the North American corporate executives and business consultants who serve as China’s proxies. Or, maybe Harper is surrounded with “useful idiots” to use the label from the communist lexicon for Westerners who actually believe in Beijing’s propaganda about progress, harmony and prosperity.

Another lesson in governance the Chinese have offered Canada is that pushing through unpopular decisions requires tight media control. There was a lot of conversation at the festival about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) using its subsidized pulpit to manipulate radio and TV content for political ends. I might have marked such criticism of a seemingly revered institution as mere conspiracy theory if I had not personally encountered a disturbingly Orwellian taste of it.

I was scheduled for a November 2nd radio interview on “Ottawa Morning” to discuss China. As is typical, I got a call in advance from a production staffer to go over the show and the issues I’d like to discuss. As soon as it became obvious that I was cynical about China and planned to talk about the ethics of the agreement, the staffer decided to change the format of the interview. She suggested bringing in a pro-china “business consultant” to “balance” the perspective as a debate. Though, the pro-China lobby gets the bulk of Western media coverage, I was happy to make it more interesting for the audience and agreed.

Shortly after, I got another call and a saccharine email, pronouncing that my ethical angle would be “matching apples and oranges” with the business consultant that had been added to my originally scheduled interview and therefore (in the interest of “balance” I presume) my anti-China perspective was being dropped. Essentially, it seems, the CBC wanted a conversation full of facts and figures without a complicating discussion of human rights, the environment, and the legitimacy of the government on the other end of the deal.

I was prepared to discuss the horrid technical details of FIPA, which proposes to remedy Chinese trade abuse through further Canadian concessions. Concessions that place Chinese firms in a legal position superior to Canadian ones and violate the rights of many Canadian stakeholders, including the Provinces and First Nations (native tribes). What I was not willing to do was to hide the nature of the despots the deal was being made with.

The CBC staffer even suggested we compare the U.S.-Canadian NAFTA to FIPA, an agreement made with a government that ignores the fundamental rights guaranteed under its own constitution (articles 32-41 assure voting rights, free speech, religious freedom, etc.). The fact that only a useful idiot would sign a trade agreement with those who show no respect for the rule of law cannot be irrelevant to a discussion of that agreement’s value.

This maneuver quite surprised me as I had expected a Canadian government media outlet to have a liberal bent that would welcome such a conversation. It turns out that liberal nature just doesn’t apply to China. Adding insult to the process was the peculiar email plea, “I hope that’s ok with you.” Meaning, I supposed, “I hope you don’t mind having your time wasted and your perspective censored.” Sure, what pundit wouldn’t be good with that?

I do a lot of radio and TV, often with those who hold contrary opinions, but I have NEVER been treated like this. Then again, I’ve never been on a state propaganda network. I can only guess about motives, but my cynical mind suggests that facing a threat of privatization under the conservative government, CBC finds it prudent to kowtow to corporate Canada and aid the transfer Canadian resources to the Boys from Beijing. If they want to prove I’m wrong about this, then I dare CBC to put me on the air to talk about China and Canada.

 

p.s. The Huffington Post declined to run this piece since it criticized the CBC. They would have been happy to run the first part attacking the Conservative government. If you want truthful news about China, you’ll need to learn Mandarin so you can watch NDTV.

 

Greg Autry serves as Senior Economist with the American Jobs Alliance and is the co-author of the book Death by China. He also served as a producer on the Death by China documentary film  directed by Peter Navarro and narrated by Martin Sheen.

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