Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paid his first official visit to China in late August and bilateral relations are flush with broad opportunities. Are the two countries having a new golden decade? What can be expected from the bilateral relationship? Global Times (GT) reporter Yu Jincui discussed these questions with Kim Nossal (Nossal), a professor of political studies at the Center for International and Defense Policy, Queen's University, and Paul Evans (Evans), a professor at the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia.
GT: What's your take on Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's call for a "new golden decade" in the China-Canadian relationship?
Nossal: I think that Premier Li when he talked about the golden decade was being optimistic. He was being hopeful and reflecting the hope and optimism in the Trudeau government that this decade is not going to be like the last decade. In the last decade, Canada and China relations were very uneven. And I think that Mr Trudeau wants to make sure that in his time in office, the relationship is good. And I'm optimistic that the two leaders have an agreement on those goals.
Evans: It is a moment where I think we can hope for a very constructive era, a creative era. And it's going to be an era which we can look to things bigger than trade and bilateral relations. I think we are on the eve of Canada and China finding some ways to cooperate on global issues. We have been hearing about environmental and peace-keeping cooperation. These are not just words. These are issues that are very important, to not only both of our countries but to the world.
And I think that is possible because Canada is now interested in these things again. Under Trudeau, Canadians are acting like Canadians again. And under President Xi Jinping, on global issues, China is emerging as a global leader, not just a global player. So I think if it is not a golden era, it can be era of common commitment and common accomplishment on global issues.
GT: China and Canada have agreed to launch a feasibility study of a bilateral free trade area as early as possible. What do you think of a Chinese-Canadian free trade agreement?
Nossal: Always in free trade agreements, there are going to be differences as you negotiate. And the process of negotiating what we agree to was always going to be political. If both sides are committed to an agreement, we can negotiate our differences. Now I don't know on what issues there is a big difference. But I'm optimistic because Canada has negotiated a lot of free trade agreements in the last 25 years. And these agreements come up and they are good for both sides. But both sides have to be willing to give a little compromise in order to get an agreement.
Evans: My personal view is that we should not talk about free trade, rather we should talk about deeper and wider economic partnership. This is a chance. China needs a partner in the West with which it should have an sophisticated economic program that is not just about tariffs and investment issues. But it's going to get into science, technology, educational exchange, management of people flows. Now free trade is not popular in Canada or in the US. So we say what we should do is think about creative linkage with China but call for something else, building it in a new way.
China is doing this with Southeast Asia, with a region of comprehensive economic partnership. We think it should be a new kind of thinking about what a partnership can be with multiple dimensions, not just be preparing a free trade agreement but preparing for something bigger.
GT: Do you think an extradition treaty should be signed?
Nossal: I think it always is a good idea to have an extradition treaty with your partners because it makes relationships much more predictable. So I'm optimistic that there will be an extradition treaty signed.
But there is a sentiment in Canada that worries about the extradition treaty because of the difference in the legal systems and human rights treatment. We should negotiate differences so that compromise can be reached. Canadians don't want to be harboring criminals in Canada and if there are Canadian criminals in China, we don't want China to be harboring those criminals.
Evans: I think we have to come to some new understandings about how to manage the repatriation of people from Canada to China. Whether an extradition treaty is in fact a right thing, I think we have to wait and see. But we do have to have a mechanism for quicker deportation and repatriation.
Extradition gets into some very special legal processes. It may be a headache because the legal systems are so different, but there are other ways to manage this. And I think right now what Mr Trudeau and Premier Li and President Xi have done, they say let's assume this as a creative moment for thinking about something different.
GT: What do you think of the US role in the China-Canada relationship?
Nossal: One of the difficulties now is what is happening in the US. Even if Donald Trump is defeated in November, there is an anti-Chinese sentiment in the US and Trump has promoted that sentiment. And the anti-Chinese sentiment is not going to vanish after November. So one of the problems is Trudeau's efforts to be nice to China are going to produce a reaction among those Americans who don't like China.
Evans: Canada is an ally of the US. It is the closest partner. But if we move forward, we realize we need new markets. The US economy is not growing as quickly as China's. We need new markets because of the difficulty of exporting our oil and energy. The US now is an energy producer. So strategically, China and Asia are more important to Canada than three years ago.
So in that context, Canada will take a more active role toward Asia on the security issues that are complicated. But I do not think Canada is going to want to be involved in freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. Where Canada can play a constructive role that might be useful to the Americans is non-traditional security issues.
Canada is a middle power. What we try to do is help set up rules and processes that make conflict less likely. For example, we look at the South China Sea, an area that is very complicated. It has sensitive sovereignty issues, territorial disputes and now geopolitical conflict between the US and China. We should be trying to be a middle power and find areas where cooperation is possible between the two countries. And I think one of the important roles Canada could play will be in the South China Sea, focusing on human security issues, the fishing issues, the depletion of minimum resources. What a middle power can do is to encourage accommodation and compromise and take up issues where trust and confidence can be built.