Canadian International Council

Canadian International Council

February 24, 2009 13:21 ET

Canada's Approach to China is Woefully Inadequate

Canadian diplomats not prepared for service in China, lacking basic language skills

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Feb. 24, 2009) - Canada's foreign policy toward China has been falling short of expectations for more than a decade and across a wide range of criteria, states a new paper released today by the Canadian International Council (CIC).

A Reassessment of Canada's Interests in China and Options for Renewal of Canada's China Policy, written by Charles Burton, examines Canada's existing China programming and concludes that it has become less relevant to Chinese conditions and less effective in fulfilling Canada's interest in China.

Dr. Burton, a CIC research associate and Brock University political scientist who has been seconded to work at Canada's Embassy in Beijing on two separate occasions, argues that Canada's prosperity in the global trading environment is at risk if it doesn't improve its engagement with China, its second largest trading partner, and a country that increasingly plays a more prominent role in the international arena.

Dr. Burton recommends the Government of Canada diversify its engagement with China and directly engage policymakers in the Chinese Government and Communist Party whose decisions have implications for Canada's interests, rather than focusing their efforts on institutions and channels that are not influential.

"China requires a comprehensive engagement strategy," says Dr. Burton. "The focus of our engagement should extend beyond formal relationships with the Chinese government through conventional diplomatic channels. It is central to Canada's interests to energetically and proactively engage China at the central, provincial and local levels."

Effective and comprehensive engagement strategy in China is vital to Canada's prosperity, but smarter engagement with China demands a Canadian foreign affairs establishment having the requisite language and cultural skills and creativity in policy implementation.

"Nearly all Canadian diplomats posted in China lack any serious Chinese language skills. For example, most cannot read the local daily newspaper or understand the nightly news on television. Also, the current rotation system of diplomatic postings results in personnel spending only three years in China before being transferred elsewhere," points out Dr. Burton. "These circumstances seriously inhibit trade promotion at the time when Canada continues to lose market share in China."

Canada's policy towards China is in fact so out of date that it is now of little interest to the Chinese, Dr. Burton added. In his recommendations, Dr. Burton outlines several strategies: engagement with a wider variety of actors in official China that includes the Communist Party, developing a program of incentives for civil servants with Chinese language skills to encourage them to focus their careers on China-related work, clearly articulating Canada's strategy for improving and promoting access to the Chinese market for Canadian business, as well as facing China with maturity, enthusiasm, energy and creativity.

Dr. Charles Burton is one of four respected academics chosen earlier this year by the CIC to contribute new perspectives in vital areas of Canadian foreign policy leading to further discussion and debate.

For more information about this paper or the CIC Fellows, please visit:

The Canadian International Council (CIC) is a non-partisan, nationwide council established to strengthen Canada's role in international affairs. With 13 branches nationwide, part of the CIIA national branch network, CIC seeks to advance research, discussion and debate on international issues by supporting a Canadian foreign policy network that crosses academic disciplines, policy areas, and economic sectors. The CIC features a privately funded fellowship program, supported by a network of issue-specific working groups. Carefully selected CIC fellows focus on important foreign policy issues, working out of universities and research institutions across the country. The CIC was founded in 2007 by Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of RIM (Research In Motion).

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