Canada and A Global China: From Special Relationship to Policy Partnership
Paul Evans (Liu Faculty, UBC), Yuen Pau Woo
April 29, 2004

China has mattered deeply to Canadians for 130 years despite vast asymmetries in power, influence, and size, and abiding differences in culture, values, political system, and level of development. Viewed over that broad sweep, relations have had three enduring pillars: human exchange dating back to the missionary period and the initial waves of immigration; commerce and the lure of the China market; and a strategic mission to assist China in becoming part of the global community. This particular combination of human connections, commercial aspirations, and strategic ambitions makes the relationship distinctive. Compare it, for instance, to the pattern of Canadian relations with India where the first component has certainly been present, the second intermittently, and the third not at all.

The idea of a “special relationship” with China took root in the missionary period and flowered with the opening of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic in 1970. Though dented and bruised by the events in Tiananmen Square in 1989, it still holds sway in many minds and reflects the view that Canada has a special mission to bring China into the world — portrayed at different points as ending China’s isolation, helping China enter the international community, integrating China into world affairs, and engaging China. The objective has been in part to encourage change in China’s domestic political practices, especially on issues related to governance and human rights. But the main emphasis has been on facilitating change in China’s worldview and diplomacy through participation in international organizations, regimes and rules.

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