Dear Canadian Journalists:
We are a middle power - misunderstanding this erodes our nation’s diplomatic abilities
Last week a Canadian reporter covering Canadian ministers meeting their Beijing counterparts asked Wang Yi and Stephan Dion a series a questions that those who follow Canadian politics are now familiar with. She basically asked a three part question. Here it is in a quote from an online article
Connolly referenced the three issues before asking: "Why is Canada pursuing closer ties with China, how do you plan to use that relationship to improve human rights and security in the region, and did you specifically raise the case of the Garratts during your talks?”
Now the three issues mentioned beforehand were largely related to imprisonment and disappearing of Chinese nationals, and two Canadians - The Garratts.
|(Wang Yi looking furious after understanding |
the question - Stephan Dion looking confused
as the question was in English and he was on
a 7 second translation delay)
While this doesn’t seem like a provocative question to most Canadians, it was, and as I will demonstrate, questions like it have the ability to destabilize Canada’s diplomatic abilities.
After the questions were asked the Chinese minster rebuked the reporter for her questions, going into a tirade of insults. Through his translator he called her arrogant, and said she lacked an understanding of china. Further journalists, offended at the perceived injustice of the Chinese response rose to her defence, and issue became a minor international bump.
Its time for the Canadian press corps to take a step back and realize what really happened here. The journalists in question have ignored Canada’s lingering position as a middle power. They have ignored the Liberals surprisingly apt move to act as a middle power thereby preserving this position. They should know that this is a very good thing for Canada, we lost clout over the last decade after all. We weren’t taken seriously since the Conservatives insisted on pretending that we are on the same level as global superpowers.
They have made a rather severe diplomatic faux pas, and while both - the Chinese minster in question and the Canadian press corps - have the freedom to say what they did - it may have effected Canadian diplomats ability to make any progress on the very issues that were asked about.
When I say Middle Power, it’s important to take a second to unpack exactly what I mean by it. Canada has for a long time been a great ally of the United States, we were a founding member of most of the same treaty organizations and have until recently shared the position of each others largest trading partner. In most of these alliances however, Canada was very much a junior power. Never having the same offensive capabilities as our southern neighbour, and the hard power that comes along. What Canada has had historically, was friendlier relations with Soviet aligned countries.
|(From left to right: PM Justin Trudeau, |
Former PM / President of Cuba Fidel Castro,
Sex and The City star Kim Cattrall)
Trudeau the First famously visited Cuba in 1976, and Canada has had an embassy in Havana since 1945. Trudeau I had also visited the Soviet Union in 1971, setting a much more sympathetic tone for the decade than his American Counterpart. What this meant was Canada gained a unique position somewhat in the centre, in a period where the world was very bi-polar. We were not a great power like the cold-waring USA and USSR, but a Middle Power. Aligned both strategically and geographically with the US, any attack on Canada would certainly evoke US retaliation, but Canada was also open to some level of relations with ideologically opposed countries. This gave us diplomatic opportunities not open to the US, we were known as fairly impartial peacekeepers.
Fast forward to the ideological mic drop in the mid 90’s and the Soviet Union was out. This weakened Canada diplomatically as we had much less to be in the middle of. The strategy from both Liberal and Conservative governments to follow was to either slash, or largely ignore the armed forces, while pretending to be a Great Power (in a world that had only one) while really being at best some sort of Mediocre Power internationally.
If we go even further forward to the present day, we see a surprisingly apt move from the current Trudeau
on the throne in power. He and his government are trying to regain Canada’s position between the United States - that is potentially going to be under a very conservative administration - and countries that are aligned differently. They are doing this with things the Chinese like. High level officials showing up, grandiose events, press galas etc. Behind closed doors the Chinese officials, in a solid mood from having a political tour go the way they expect, sit down and do high level negotiations about important issues, such as the one the reporter in question asked about. Once they leave the country what ever was worked out is usually announced, if it reflects poorly on the party it will likely stay behind China’s firewall and the countries press won’t create stir for fear of embarrassing someone.
What screws this process up is when for the sake of sensationalism, and a good story, a reporter jumps the gun and starts pressing a high level party official with questions they are most definitely in no position to answer. The Chinese minister was right, this reporter does misunderstand China. What she did put the minister in a position where the must now official deny, and likely cease negotiating over the very issues she brought up. This also explains why Stephan Dion likely didn’t come to the defence of the press, for fear he would further set back his chance at diplomacy. After all during a short tour, the hours of hard negotiations are few and far between. Minister Dion certainly had to spend several of his precious hours with the Chinese minister apologizing and explaining the incident, before he could hopefully return to the issues, assuming the Chinese minister hadn’t already been instructed to ignore said issues.
I’m not saying that what the press corp did was undemocratic, however I think I have presented a fair argument that demonstrates is was very undiplomatic, and a best set back our negotiations, and our chances at regaining some Middle power status.
So my message to the Canadian press corps and to Amanda Connolly of iPolitics (who may be the only person to read my pitiful little blog if she has a google alert for her own name) is to take a step back and examine the power your questions have to impact our diplomatic relations. I know it makes for a great headline, and probably gains you some traffic in a market where that is a very difficult thing to do, but at the cost of setting back Canada’s diplomatic relations, and our possible return to a position of diplomatic prestige, could you maybe wait till the Chinese leave and grill Mr.Dion then? I’d really appreciate it.