Highlights

30 august 2012

Questioning Canada's pick for ambassador to China

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(Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press)
On his recent trip to China Prime Minister Stephen Harper was promised the loan of two pandas. Panda diplomacy is one thing, finding an ideal ambassador is another.

Canada is about to name a new ambassador to China. Guy Saint-Jacques is currently Canada’s chief negotiator and ambassador for climate change. He is one of the few top Canadian diplomats who speaks Mandarin. He is expected to get the posting to China but some observers are disappointed about that.

To find out why, RCI’s Lynn Desjardins spoke with Charles Burton, a former advisor to the Canadian embassy in Beijing and now, a professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.
While Guy Saint-Jacques is fine career diplomat he is not a cabinet minister or senior political appointee. Mr. Saint-Jacques has had two previous postings in China, one of them as the second in command. “He’s certainly someone who has experience with the file,” says Prof. Burton. “(he is) a non-partisan person of great integrity and high competence.”

But Prof. Burton is disappointed that the Canadian government did not chose to “upgrade the status of the Beijing post to something comparable to the way we address London, Paris and Rome by putting in a well-connected, high-ranked, politically influential figure.” He points out that in these posts Canada has often placed former cabinet ministers or former provincial premiers who would have better access to decision makers in both China and Canada. Mr. Saint-Jacques, if he is appointed ambassador, would only have access to his Chinese counterparts at the ministry of foreign affairs who do not hold much power and less ability to reach Canadian cabinet ministers.

The Canadian government is reported to have tried to recruit two former cabinet ministers, David Emerson, the former minister of foreign affairs and former trade minister Stockwell Day for the post of ambassador to China. The Globe and Mail reports both men turned down the job.

“The Chinese usually put a lot of stress on relationships and they put a lot of stress on rank,” says Prof. Burton. “If you’re considered a highly-ranked… the Chinese are more likely to want to do business with us and if we had such a person the prospects of achieving important bilateral agreements such as the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement that Canada really want to try to improve our market access in China would be more likely to be achieved.”

Canada’s new ambassador to China will have several complicated issue to manage. Canada would like to redress the 4-1 trade imbalance it has with China. The government feels there is not enough fair access to trade for Canadian businesses.

Human rights abuses in China continue to be a concern.

China wants to make its biggest foreign investment ever by buying the Canadian oil and gas producer Nexen for $15.1 billion. Canada may nix the deal if the government feels the Chinese don’t allow comparable Canadian investment in China or if it feels the deal would not be in the interests of Canada.

While career diplomat Guy Saint-Jacques would likely to follow policy directives from Ottawa “extremely well and in a scrupulous and prudent way,” Prof Burton thinks that had Canada chosen instead to appoint a former cabinet minister as ambassador to China that would have raised the profile of the post and could have “allowed Canada to upgrade its relationship with China politically in a way that would be commensurate with the enormous importance of our economic relationship with China.”

Canadians await official word as to who will be their next ambassador to China.

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