The following Q&A was conducted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. It was prepared by Michael Bloomfield and Lanlin Bu of Harmony Foundation.
General impressions of Canada‐Asia relations
1. Canada has traditionally been viewed as an Atlantic nation due to close economic, cultural, political and military ties with Europe. As Canadians deepen their relations with Asia, do you believe that Canada can also be considered as an Asia Pacific nation? If yes, in what way is Canada part of the Asia Pacific region?
YES. It is because of the significant and increasing population of Canadians from the Asia‐ Pacific region, particularly China and India, and our presence on the Pacific Ocean.
2. What economic, political or cultural roles might Canada be able to play in the Asia Pacific region?
China’s development decisions will increasingly influence economic stability, human and environmental health and global security around the world now and for the future. Canada can be a positive influence by partnering with China. However, to do so we need to build lasting relationships based on mutual respect and cooperation on issues of shared importance. Selling natural resources and recruiting rich tourists, students and immigrants is not relationship building. Canada has much to offer in sustainable development strategy and practice, social development, green/clean products and technology, advanced education, etc. Canada should engage in long term partnerships with Asian countries on environmental protection, civil society development, advanced education, green economy etc. nation to nation, but more importantly at local level where implementation occurs. It will be much more appreciated by Asian countries like China to receive suggestions, reminders or critical comments from a country that they see as a friend rather than criticism from a country who comes across as a lecturing superior on economy, environment or human rights. Alternatively, abandoning our responsibilities and commitments to important international issues such as human rights, environment and poverty alleviation exposes a moral crisis in our politics and society. Without investments in meeting our social responsibilities there won’t be a sustainable economy or even a significant economic recovery.
3. How might Canada build upon its existing economic/political/cultural partnerships with nations in the Asia Pacific region?
As indicated in #2 the largely trade relationship existing today limits our influence and opportunities and compromises our standing, ethically and economically.
Existing partnerships between Canada and China are mostly trade relationships or within the manufacturing chain. Many organizations we’ve worked with in China have a hard time naming a Canadian company or business organization well‐known in China. Name recognition is more or less zero. One reason is that Canadian businesses focus on its business goals and operations and contributes little or nothing to CSR and programs contributing to local communities, social development and the environment despite the fact our production and consumption practices contribute to China’s problems. Another reason is that Canadians play it safe, preferring to fly under the radar and hide behind the US and others, allowing them to carry the burden. Canada is largely invisible. However, this luxury will soon disappear with increased Chinese public and government expectations for improved performance, increasingly expressed in opinion, policies and regulations.
And Canada’s invisibility has a price if we want to be successful in the new China, one of improved labour rights, environmental and health protection and social development. Selling and buying product won’t be enough.
To be successful Canada needs a comprehensive and forward looking national strategy for China rather than everyone pursuing their own short‐term interests with little or no regard for the impact on the greater good. We also need an innovative, high profile flagship – for example, establishing an International Centre for SCD in China. The center can benefit Canada‐ China cooperation in local government, education, science, business and civil society serving as incubator, research and training facility and meeting place.
Unfortunately, the interest expressed by several Canadian universities and agencies has never translated into action, arguably because of the self‐interested, short‐term gain approach that is prevalent. And yet, we spent 58 million CDN to build a pavilion that stood for 6 months at Expo 2011 in Shanghai and tens of millions more to staff and operate what was little more than a clubhouse for business. The reviews were poor and we spent far more than all expenditures for environmental and health protection, poverty alleviation and social development in China.
4. A previous study by the Asia Pacific Foundation discovered that citizens living in Eastern Canada feel less connected to the Asia Pacific region than those who live in Western Canada. In your opinion, do you think it is important that all Canadians see themselves as being connected to the Asia Pacific region?
Yes, that would be helpful but more importantly our leadership ‐business, government, university, etc. needs to see China as more than a place to sell raw natural resources and recruit wealthy students, tourists and immigrants.
It won’t be possible that ALL Canadians see the important connection with Asia Pacific Region, but it is important for them to understand how their lives are linked to Asia Pacific Region and how their lives would change if Canada were not active in the Asia Pacific Region working with others to achieve improved labour rights, environmental and health protection and social development. After all, while western appetites for cheap labour and consumer goods has helped build China’s economy they also have contributed greatly to social, health and environmental problems.
5. In your opinion, what opportunities and challenges will Canada need to address as China and India emerge as economic and political powers?
The challenge is competing with others also pursuing opportunities in the Chinese (and Indian) markets. We strongly believe selling raw natural resources is a poor short‐term strategy; it is based on price and that’s risky. If we offer a better deal we succeed, if not, we fail. That’s hardly an innovative approach promising long‐term success. Compared to European countries and the US, Canada has a much lower profile in China. European countries (and US and Australia to a lesser degree) have supported, assisted and implemented various campaigns/initiatives in civil society development and environmental rehabilitation and protection in China; thus they’ve established much closer relationships with local governments, NGOs and communities and their good reputation for supporting social and development and public and environmental health in China provides stronger basis for cooperation with China on trade and economic development.
Activities that build long‐term relationships, based on helping China meet its goals to transition to an economy which provides prosperity without destroying public health and the environment offers great opportunities in research and development, education and training as well as trade and economic development. Again, we need to develop an integrated, comprehensive strategy involving all sectors.
With China and India emerging as economic and political powers, economic opportunities have arisen to help them meet their goals to reduce carbon emissions and achieve other commitments for environmental and social improvements in addition to creating opportunities in economic development which are healthier and more sustainable. Investing in research, education, environment, health and social development favours those pursuing these economics opportunities.
6. Please share your opinion on the opportunities that you believe are available to Canadian organizations in the Asia Pacific region.
Research and development for green products and technologies, clean energy, social development and the education and training that support them.
Education and training – exchange programs between schools and universities for students, faculty and research staff, collaborative degree granting program; Scholarships for international students in need are sorely lacking compared to other western countries. Our focus on wealthy students who can pay higher tuition leaves out many worthy students who are unable to pay. Some of these students too are leaders of the future and will be far more inclined to Canada. It is not enough to inconsistently offer a few scholarships. Instead we advocate tying the income generating recruitment to a scholarship program for those in need such as for every 10 higher paying students, at least one scholarship is provided for a needy student from the same country.
Tourism – natural scenes, coastal attractions, historical sites, wildlife viewing, professional tours in sustainable building, ecosystem recovery, sustainable forestry and agriculture, etc. and we need to assist China in their efforts to improve preservation of nature and important natural and historic sites.
Culture – take advantage of twining relationships between cities and towns and organize cultural visits/exchange events to create opportunities for communities in both countries to build practical relationships around shared geography, demographics, ambitions and needs. Too much money has been wasted on ceremonial handshakes and exchanges of the keys to respective cities, prevalent in current sister city relationships which often are ill conceived.
Experience working with the Asia Pacific region
1. Has your organization established any partnerships with organizations or governments in the Asia Pacific region? If yes, how do you anticipate this relationship (these relationships) developing over the next five years?
If no, do you expect your organization will expand or work in the Asia Pacific region in the next five years?
Yes, excellent relationships. However, the effort needs to be brought to a much higher level and that depends on whether or not Canadian government and business come to understand the importance of building long‐term relationships or continue with current policies and programs emphasizing short‐term trade and ignoring China’s increasing expectations for contributing help to meeting social development and environmental challenges.
2. What networks or resources have you found most useful when connecting with leaders in Asia? (e.g. the trade commissioner’s services, Canadian expatriates in Asia, Asian diasporas in Canada, provincial trade offices, private consultants etc.)
Existing networks were not very useful because of the single‐minded emphasis on short‐term trade and economic gain. Embassies and consuls function like trade offices, and government, business and universities are too busy doing their own thing to care about the bigger picture. Therefore, we created our own, which although useful in many ways to trade still had a poor response from Canadian government, business and universities etc.
3. Recent news stories have highlighted that Asian investment in Canada’s natural resource industries has increased over the last decade. How do you feel about Asian investment in Canada? From your experience, what are some sectors in Canada that are currently experiencing high rates of investment from Asia?
Concerned that we are losing control of our resources and that Asian investors and their CDN enablers will push for lower standards of CSER here and there. High rates of invest are predominantly in non‐replenishing natural resources, tar sands, coal, oil and gas, forestry and rare metals. Again, this is not relationship building, simply collaboration to make short‐ term money.
4. How do you see your organization operating in Asia in the next 5 years? What changes are needed in your organization in order to have a greater focus in Asia?
In the next 5 years, we will work to explore and strengthen the cooperation between Canada and China we advocate but success depends and how quickly Canadian government and business and others understand the importance of building long‐term relationships instead of one‐off trade relationships and how much they invest in that.
To help make progress on promoting a more comprehensive, long‐term approach, we are working with Chinese and Canadian partners on activities that:
Raise Canadian awareness of the opportunities and changes in China and to persuade decision‐makers to develop practical long‐term partnerships based on a strategy integrating the goals and efforts of government, business, education and civil society.
Capacity building for Chinese civil society to help improve their ability for working with international partners, including business, on producing social and environmental benefits.
Partnership building between business and NGOs in Canada and China.
Assist lead Chinese organizations to develop policies and programs that help and persuade business to invest in social and environmental sustainable development and work more closely with local communities and civil society to achieve those goals.
5. Establish the International Center for Sustainable Development in China – to provide training, education on CSR, capacity building for civil society; communication platform for business and civil society; showcase place for best practice and lessons learned and Canadian expertise etc. The center can benefit Canada‐China cooperation in local government, education, science, business and civil society serving as incubator, research and training facility and meeting place.
1. What specifically can we do in Canada to increase the general public’s understanding and awareness of Canada’s potential role in the Asia Pacific region?
Make them aware of social and environmental consequences of current policies and corporate and consumer practices and their short‐comings and get them involved in developing and implementing a comprehensive, integrated, long‐term policy and personal principles that combines trade with social development, human rights and environment.
2. Are there additional comments or observations that you would like to share that relate to you or your organization’s engagement with the Asia Pacific region?
Government and business and academia far too often under‐value the insights, expertise and contributions of civil society and as a result of this prejudice lose many innovative ideas and valuable lessons, best practices and contacts when developing policies and programs and engaging Asia Pacific region. Incestuous group think is prevalent and has resulted in a one dimensional approach based on economic gain, overlooking other responsibilities and opportunities and how a coordinated, multi‐sector approach is more likely to meet them and produce successful outcomes for Canada, China and the world.