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Free trade a win for Canada and China
2017/05/05

 
The following commentary by H.E. Mr. Lu Shaye, China’s Ambassador to Canada, headlined “Free trade a win for Canada and China” appeared in National Post May 3rd.

Last week, officials and experts from both China and Canada held in Ottawa the second round of exploratory discussions on a bilateral free-trade agreement. Both sides enjoyed in-depth and fruitful discussions. The Chinese premier and Canadian prime minister agreed last year to pursue the signing of a free-trade agreement, one that will create better conditions and a better environment for co-operation between our two countries. Such an agreement would be of mutual benefit and deliver win-win results, being not only helpful for China to enter the Canadian market, but also favourable for Canadian businesses to enter the Chinese market, which is much bigger.

After I came to Canada earlier this year, through reading newspapers and getting in touch with various people I find that the Canadian public has three major concerns about a China-Canada free-trade agreement. Firstly, there is prejudice against China’s state-owned enterprises, with appeals to prohibit them from entering the Canadian market. Secondly, people worry that Chinese enterprises would buy up Canadian oil sands companies and high-tech enterprises. Thirdly, there are those who want to involve issues of human rights in the free-trade negotiations. I would like to respond to these three concerns, respectively.

Firstly, Canadians should not hold a prejudice against China’s state-owned enterprises. These enterprises are a pillar of China’s national economy, shouldering important responsibilities of China’s social and economic development, providing jobs for millions of Chinese people, and offering public services such as water, electricity, gas, transportation, medical care and education to all Chinese people.

Just like privately owned firms, China’s state-owned enterprises operate according to market rules. The only difference is that they not only pay taxes to our government, but they also contribute a portion of their profits for the country to invest in infrastructure and public service. China’s state-owned enterprises are not evil, but babysitters who care for our people’s lives.

Canada also has state-owned enterprises, but they have a different name. Moreover, Canada was initially built on the foundation of state-owned enterprises. In the 1960s and 1970s, Canada carried out a large-scale nationalization campaign. I do not know whether Canadians also discriminate against their own state-owned enterprises. If the Chinese government were to treat Canadian state-owned enterprises with discriminating policies, what would Canadians think about that?

When it comes to Chinese companies buying oil sands companies, to be honest, those that have already done so are now incurring losses. Canada’s oil sands are not competitive given the current international oil price. Even if Canadians did not disapprove, I do not believe that Chinese enterprises would be interested in investing in the oil sands.

As for co-operation between Chinese and Canadian high-tech enterprises, it is a mutually beneficial and two-way business relationship. It is not necessary to categorize this as an issue of national security. China is the victim of foreign cyber-espionage activities, rather than the perpetrator. To be frank, in many high-tech areas, China is not lagging behind Canada, but is actually more advanced.

As for whether human rights should be involved in our free-trade negotiations, I have repeatedly noted that China does not want too much non-trade or non-commercial factors involved in these trade talks. This does not mean that we are afraid of these topics, as China has managed to lift 700-million people from poverty over the last two or three decades, which is the greatest human rights achievement in history. Why should we be afraid of discussing human rights? We are not afraid of discussing it even in terms of Canada’s definitions of human rights. We are never against democracy and human rights.

What we oppose is to view one country’s approach as the only viable one, let alone trying to impose that approach on others.

All roads lead to Rome, but the roads to democracy and human rights differ from country to country. As an ancient Chinese saying goes, “It is natural that all things are different from one another.” If countries are forced to blindly follow a designated pattern and required to copy existing models, it will not work. We shall not forget the catastrophic consequences that came from trying to impose western democracy on other countries worldwide. Shouldn’t we reflect on this? Therefore, the reason we don’t agree with including democracy or human right issues in our trade negotiations is to avoid disputes. It is something we can discuss on other occasions.

China sticks to the path of win-win co-operation. Although China’s historical and cultural background and social systems are different from Canada’s, we have more common interests in promoting development and co-operation. Differences should not be an obstacle to communication and co-operation between the two sides. I sincerely hope that China and Canada work together to enhance mutual understanding and trust, to create a more favourable atmosphere for the further development of our bilateral relations.

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