New Opportunities for China-Canada Bilateral Ties

By staff reporter ZHOU LIN


During a formal meeting on the sidelines of last year’s G20 in Turkey, China’s President Xi Jinping invoked the legacy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's father Pierre Trudeau, who established diplomatic relations with the PRC in 1970. "That was an extraordinary political vision," said Xi, "China will always remember that." Justin Trudeau responded by inviting President Xi to Canada on a state visit.

Not only did 2015 mark the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, but the years 2015 and 2016 also mark the China-Canada Year of People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges. Under this backdrop China Today interviewed Ambassador of Canada to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, on his insights into the multiple issues involving the two countries' bilateral relations.


Ambassador of Canada to China, Guy Saint-Jacques.


China Today: China and Canada have a long-standing and comprehensive relationship that operates at many levels and in various areas, among which trade plays a key role. Over the past two years, we saw a series of breakthroughs between the two countries: direct flight routes between China, Montreal and Calgary; the first North American RMB clearing hub established in Toronto; the People's Bank of China and Bank of Canada's currency swap agreement, worth about RMB 200 billion; and the China-Canada Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) coming into force. What is the significance of all these achievements? What other potential agreements in the field of economic and trade cooperation can be expected in the future?

Guy Saint-Jacques: Over the last few years, bilateral relations between Canada and China have been very good. There were some major developments last year, for example, the setting up of the first RMB clearing center in Canada – also the first in North America. This is important because it will facilitate trade and reduce costs. We are now encouraging more companies to use RMB in trade, publicizing its benefits.

Looking at last year’s trade results, China's exports to Canada, worth 65.6 billion Canadian dollars, had substantially increased by almost 12 percent compared to the year 2014, according to our trade figures; and our own exports to China increased by 4.5 percent, reaching 20.2 billion Canadian dollars. Though we have more to do to achieve a better balance, this is still good news from my perspective. Since China's exports to Canada have continually increased, despite China’s downward trends in overall trade.

From our side, Canada's trading is dominated by commodities. Despite the falling prices of commodities such as minerals and copper, the value of other commodities have indeed risen, which also affirms our pursuit of more diversified trade. As our two economies have strong complementarity, I see a great deal of potential for the future. For example, we share the priority of using clean energy and renewable energy to protect the environment, therefore we can have cooperation in these fields.

Moreover, we saw a number of direct flight routes set up last year. In fact there will be more announced this year. I believe new flights will bring more tourism to both countries. Last year, over 500,000 Chinese tourists visited Canada. If we exclude visitors from the United States, China is now the second largest source of visitors to Canada, after the U.K. There is a great flow of Canadians visiting China, too. We estimate that the number was probably more than 600,000 in 2015.

Last October, a new government was elected in Canada. The young Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the son of Pierre Trudeau, the PM who made the decision to establish diplomatic relations between our two countries 45 years ago. Justin Trudeau has indicated a number of times that he wanted to expand relations with China. In the mandate letter he gave to Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Trade, he specifically stated that she should look at ways to expand trade and economic relations with China.  

We will hopefully see very high-level exchanges this year, as China will be hosting are G20 in Hangzhou in early September. Our finance minister was in Shanghai in Feburary to attend the G20 Finance Ministers meeting. We also hope the Chinese leader will come to Canada on a state visit this year. These high-level visits are very important because they compel both sides to look at where we can push forward our relations.


China Today: Our two governments have agreed to establish two mechanisms: an annual foreign ministers’ dialogue, and an annual economic and financial strategic dialogue to enhance bilateral relations. How are these dialogues proceeding? Will they be able to deliver substantive results, for example – the initiation of free trade agreement negotiations in the near future?

Guy Saint-Jacques: We are still working on preparations of the two dialogues, and we hope that the foreign ministers’ dialogue might take place soon this year. We also hope that the first meeting of the economic and financial strategic dialogue will be held later this year.

We see these two dialogues as a very good way to engage more in-depth discussions on foreign affairs, as well as economic and financial issues. They serve as a good basis to look at various sectors related to trade, but also in the areas of the environment, agriculture and other aspects. Canada has one of the best banking systems in the world. We have a lot of experience in terms of tax management, financial regulation, and managing the stock market. In all these areas, we would be happy to share our expertise.

I am confident that the new Canadian government will support more dialogues this year, including a possible annual dialogue at the leaders’ level. In this way, I think we would be able to make greater progress. Besides these two dialogues, we also have other mechanisms: the strategic working group that involves deputy trade ministers on each side, and also the International Economic and Trade Commission that met earlier this year in January. This enables very good dialogue on key issues in bilateral relations. As I mentioned earlier, we have a pretty big trade deficit with China. When I look at what we can accomplish together, my hope is that we will be able to formalize more formal dialogue this year to enable concrete collaboration that can benefit both countries.  


China Today: China is Canada’s largest trading partner in Asia. Could you share with us some specific examples and statistics? What mutual benefits could be achieved by both our countries?

Guy Saint-Jacques: I want to mention a very successful program that was managed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). In my view, its cooperation with China was one of its most successful programs across the world. It started in the early 1980s; it was focused on agriculture, education and governance issues. In terms of agriculture, Canada introduced quality assessment for the whole industry in China. In the energy sector, we helped China to develop its hydropower industry and trained Chinese engineers. In the field of governance, we also helped to train regulators, including safety inspectors who can help guarantee food safety. Also in the environmental arena, we shared our carbon capture and storage experience to help in tackling China's pollution problems. In all these fields, we have regular working groups to share expertise and collaboration. We also trained lawyers and judges, to improve the legal system in China. Finally, in the field of education, there’s been very good collaboration, such as teacher and student exchanges. Many exchanges in key areas benefit both countries. So this is very encouraging for the future.

Of course, Canada in terms of its population is a small country with about 35 million people. But at the same time, Canada is very rich in natural resources, possessing vast forests, minerals and gas, alongside a manufacturing industry that’s well developed. We have an abundance of qualified expertise. So I think our objective is to try to increase the exchanges of experience between the two countries. In fact, there has been a lot of discussion on how to expand our bilateral relations including the trade aspects. So you may find a number of business associations in Canada, as for example, the Canada-China Business Council. We are all looking forward to free trade agreement negotiations with China.

There is a lot of collaboration to be anticipated, and we are now waiting for the new government to make those decisions. My expectations are, if we have high-level meetings this year, maybe this will be the moment to make some major announcements.


Guy Saint-Jacques with a group of young participants in the Towards the Future: Tiff Presents DigiPlaySpace Exhibition.


China Today: Not only do China and Canada have strong economic and trade complementarity, we also enjoy strong people-to-people ties. In recent years, China has been the source of the largest number of overseas students studying in Canada as well as a fast-growing share of the Canadian tourism market. Daily some 3,000 travelers fly across the Pacific Ocean back and forth between the two countries. In Premier Li Keqiang's Government Work Report for 2016, he mentions China as entering into a new era of mass tourism. Under these circumstances, are there any policy incentives to attract more Chinese students and tourists?

Guy Saint-Jacques: In both areas of tourism and education, Canada has a lot to offer. We have seen rapid growth in Chinese tourist numbers since 2011. Canada is a very large country, renowned for its all-season beautiful scenery, natural environment and national parks. Most Chinese especially like taking part in winter sports in Canada. We also have a wide range of cultural festivals, as well as historical sites.

Two years ago, Canada was the first to offer 10-year multiple-entry visas to Chinese visitors. This great idea was followed by the United States a year later. It has helped to increase the flow of tourists. We also hope the two governments will open more visa application centers to better facilitate the process. The only constraint was that air flight capacity was always deficient. We eventually set up more direct flights in September last year. This year we would like to see six additional flight routes. If all these routes are established, it will be possible to fly directly between 11 cities in China and four cities in Canada. Now is also a good time to visit Canada, because the exchange rate between the RMB and Canadian dollar is much lower than that with the US dollar. So it's much more economical to visit Canada now than go to the United States.  

On the education side, we have seen some good programs in recent years. What Canada can offer is high-quality education. We have universities and schools as good as the top American universities. The University of Toronto ranks among the best universities in the world. There’s a long list of other such institutions as the Universities of McGill, British Columbia and Alberta. Here is another advantage Canada offers: you can be educated in two languages, as Canada has two official languages – English and French. Canada is a multicultural society that welcomes foreigners, with great integration of all cultures. In a city like Toronto, you will always see many faces of new Canadians there, because 46 percent of the population was born abroad. We offer a wide variety of courses, including in finance and engineering, with most education options closely linked with research.

Nowadays, the Chinese government is putting an emphasis on innovation-driven education. Those Chinese students who come to Canada will find this facilitated with chances for involvement in innovative initiatives. We are also the only country in the world that has created this new program to reduce the time for issuing visas. Once you graduate, you can stay in Canada and work for up to three years. And then if you want to become a permanent resident you may benefit from the Canadian Experience Class immigration program. So I think we offer many possibilities. And it is relatively cheaper to study in Canada to access good quality education. Indeed, we have more and more young Chinese students coming to study in Canadian high schools. And if Chinese parents wish to send their children to Canada, we also offer quick visas directly to the parents, until their children are 18 years old, so one or both parents can visit to make sure that everything is going well. These are all very good programs for facilitating education.   

China Today: The period 2015-2016 marks the China-Canada Year of People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges. Are there any special events or activities on the agenda?

Guy Saint-Jacques: A great number of programs have already taken place, with many taking place right now. March is a festival month for promoting French culture, so we have Francophone musicians from Canada touring 14 Chinese cities, offering over 40 performances. We also had four Canadian writers attending the Bookwarm Literary Festival here. In April and May each year in Beijing, there is a cultural festival called Meeting in Beijing. Canada this year has opera singers and other Canadian performers participating in the big event.

One thing I would like to especially mention is that, on April 28, the globally famous horse spectacle "Cavalia" trotted into Beijing, a first for the Canadian show since its debut in the summer of 2003. "Cavalia Wuma" or horse dancing is a mix of equestrian and performance art involving dance and acrobatics with multimedia and special effects, as well as live music. The show was performed under big tents in Beijing's Chaoyang Park.

We will also have some exhibitions organized by Canadian museums. We hope all these activities will help Chinese people better understand Canada and see the creativity in our country. 


China Today: What is your assessment of collaboration in the field of law enforcement between our two countries? With China's Fox Hunt campaign continuing, how are China and Canada strengthening law enforcement and making cooperation more effective and efficient?

Guy Saint-Jacques: We’ve had some good collaboration in the last few years in terms of the repatriation of fugitives. One of the famous cases was Lai Changxing's repatriation from Canada. This case makes clear what the rules are and how to achieve better cooperation between our respective police forces. When I look at the numbers from January 2008 to October 2015, there were a total of 3,216 cases of Chinese citizens sent back to China, among which 263 were repatriated for criminal reasons.

There’s a better understanding between the police forces of our two countries now and their cooperation is becoming better and better all the time. Sometimes some cases take a bit of time in Canada, this is because all these activities must be conducted with full respect for Canadian laws and regulations, and we don't like to take such action without due process. In Canada the laws have to be fully respected. Our system is fully based on the rule of law. We have total juridical independence, which means even the Prime Minister cannot tell a judge what to do. In fact in some cases the government wanted to remove certain people, but the judge refused because of the lack of evidence that the law required. Nevertheless both sides are learning to work together. Annual consultation helps both sides to focus on areas where we can make improvements. This is very important because Canada doesn't want to be known as a destination for criminal refugees.

We want to protect our immigration system, and want to keep our doors open to investors, to businesspeople and to overseas students. Of course, there will always be cases where someone gets into the country and tries to escape detection. In such cases, we do our utmost to remove them from Canada via the law. We have the Canadian Border Services Agency, whose duty is to remove such individuals as quickly as possible. Apart from fugitives,  there are also those living in Canada illegally, who have no visas or whose visas have expired, we are also cooperating with China on removing these people.  


China Today: How do our two countries effectively manage and control any disagreements that might arise between us? How do we seek common ground and put aside differences? How do we focus on growing our mutual interests?

Guy Saint-Jacques: Canada is a middle power and has no colonial past. I don't think any other country perceives Canada as a threat. In fact, we have been very active in multilateral cooperation. Because our neighbor is the great power of the United States, we know that a multilateral system can best protect our interests. There is a history of cooperation between our two countries as, for example, Canada played a very important role in recognizing the People's Republic of China after its founding and in helping China to get back to the UN. Thanks to the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the father of the current PM Justin Trudeau, China and Canada have long established bilateral diplomatic relations. We have also created a number of bilateral systems. When China joined the WTO, we organized special training for Chinese trade officials so that China could be better prepared to take on its obligations as a WTO member.

Of course we also have some differences, but as I have mentioned earlier, we want to create more to openly discuss such differences, and to try to seek more common ground. Our goal is to help make China more successful, because the more successful China is, the more successful we will be.

Many people mention human rights as a problematic issue in China. We recognize that tremendous progress has taken place over the past 30 years and hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. The living standards of most Chinese people are much higher, and the healthcare system has been improved. In some senses, Canada might be seen as a more ‘socialist’ country than China because we have a very good public health insurance and pension system. If you fall sick and need special treatment you won't go bankrupt because the public healthcare system will take care of you. This is another area we wish to share our experience with China.

When I look at the complementarities between our two countries and how much we can share, I believe that we have a very good basis and as time goes by, the differences are becoming fewer and fewer. China now is playing an important role in international relations, in financial and trade issues and other fields that can assist countries around the world. These days, China is more active in global affairs, for example, in the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which we see is an important response to the needs of Asian countries, and also something we would like to seek possible collaboration with China in the future.

Considering the open attitude of the new Canadian government, I am very confident that we will have more and more dialogue and collaboration, and we’ll find ways to resolve differences when they come up.