Canada should think globally: official

Updated: 2013-11-15 10:23

By MICHAEL BARRIS in New York (China Daily USA)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

Dwelling in the shadow of a giant is nothing new for Canadians, who live next door to the United States. Canada is the 37th largest country by population, and the US third, with the world's largest economy.

But David Lloyd Johnston, Canada's governor general, says his nation must try "harder" to attract trade and investment deals with China, the world's largest nation by population and second-largest by economic growth.

"The hard reality for Canadians is China is much more important to Canada than Canada is to China," said Johnston, who represents Britain's Queen Elizabeth II in Canada and recently wrapped up a seven-day China visit. "We're a relative small population country compared to China, and we are the ninth or 10th largest economy in the world," he said. "The Chinese economy is the second largest in the world and growing rapidly. Just on that comparison alone, there should be a much greater signficance in the minds of Canadians for China than vice versa," Johnston told China Daily in an interview.

Canadian governors general come from all walks of life and are representative of the Canadian population.

The 72-year-old academic, author, and statesman ¬— chosen by the Queen in October 2010 to become Canada's 28th governor general — said Canada can help its cause as a relatively modest-sized presence in the global marketplace by encouraging Canadians to realize that "we are a trading nation".

Canada "tries to play a pretty active role on the stage," Johnston said. "If you're a country with a population of 35 million and you're dealing with (China), a country with a population of 1.3 billion, you have to put more effort into it. You have to be aware of those asymmetries and recognize them as a fact of life in how you conduct a relationship."

Canada-China relations unofficially began in the 1960s when then-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker approved policies that opened up the Chinese market for Canadian farmers. In 1970, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's recognition of the People's Republic of China launched official relations. Today, China is Canada's second-largest trading partner and Canada is China's 13th largest. But some observers see untapped potential in the relationship. Political blogger James Munson said a major meeting of China's leadership this week "failed to signal an interest in drastic economic reform" — a bad sign for Canadian businesses seeking to increase their share of China's lucrative markets. The non-position taken on reform at the third plenum of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China "potentially dashes hopes of a speedy economic liberalization that would benefit Canadian business", Munson wrote in his iPolitics blog. The four-day Beijing parley attended by 373 top-ranking Communist officials was expected to delineate the leadership's direction in the next decade. Johnston, a native of the central-Ontario city of Sudbury, said in the interview that the Canada-China trade relationship has "developed strongly" in the past 10 or 15 years. He said he hoped his seven-day trade mission would cause Canadians to "think even more ambitiously about enhancing trade and investment with China".

China is "just so fundamentally important to Canada that we need business and representation and exchanges and personal relationships at every level", Johnston said.

Although Johnston has visited 27 countries as governor general, he said his China visit was "quite special" because it was by invitation.

"All of the trips I take are done at the initiative of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Trade," Johnston said. "When I came into office, I indicated that China was high on our international list. I was anxious to make the trip. We were pleased that early on in the tenure of the new leadershp of China that they invited us for a state visit."

Johnston also has a personal connection to China: his four daughters all have either studied there or spent time there. "Two of my daughters spent two or more years there learning Mandarin, and two more have had wonderful times there," the governor general said. "So our family ties have been very important to us."

The former president of Montreal's McGill University said he "takes his hat off" to China for emphasizing "the equality of opportunity that comes through education. The quality of their universities has developed impressively. Chinese universities now appear on listings of the top 100 universities in the world, and some of the research programs are compared with the best in the world," Johnston said.

He said Canada has a "substantial connection with the Chinese diaspora", reflected in the 1.25 million Chinese Canadians who call Canada home and have been "outstanding citizens". More than 80,000 Chinese students in Canada represent one third of the country's total international educational population, the governor general said.

Johnston said if he could do one thing, it would be to "encourage and stimulate Canadians to look globally".

We should "look south to the US and Mexico, but we really must see ourselves as global citizens in a small country and be anything but complacent about relationships with an enormous and very advancing country like China," he said.

Contact the writer at