In a recent column for Sun News, John Robson provides a scathing criticism of the proposed purchase of the Canadian oil company Nexen by the Chinese state-owned CNOOC. He argues that China is an enemy to Canadian geopolitical interests, has policies counter to Canadian values, and “is [a] thoroughly nasty” regime.
While his invective against the “communists” and “socialists” in Beijing is comical, like a caricature of a McCarthy era propagandist, he has a point. By trading with China so extensively, we are helping prop up a dictatorship that is currently occupying Tibet, supporting Syria and other violent regimes, and undermining international efforts to promote human rights issues.
In a complex world, with numerous political, economic and value systems, where does Canada draw the line on who we can trade with and who we can’t? The ultimate issue at stake here is whether Canada’s trade and other economic relationships should reflect its values as a country. This is not a simple matter, however, whatever Robson may think.
If we are to base our economic relationships on our ‘values,’ then we need to re-evaluate our policies with not only China, but with a slew of other countries. Unfortunately, there are only 25 full-fledged democracies in the world, so we would have to set a line of ‘democratic enough.’ The boundary between the state and private sector is also not as clear as Robson (“State enterprises aren’t capitalism, they’re socialism”) makes out, either. For example, where do the chaebols in South Korea or the state enterprises in Taiwan fit into this definition? As far as human rights and other ‘Canadian values’ go, where do we draw the line? China is out, according to Robson, but what about Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Kuwait, Ethiopia or Honduras? Many would argue that Israel would be out, as well.
If Robson wants to make qualitative judgements on what countries are ‘good’ and what countries are ‘bad,’ that’s fine. Whether these types of judgements can be the basis of an effective foreign trade policy, however, is another issue all together.