Opinion: Justin Trudeau stands tall in China

It’s not very often that I’m really proud of being Canadian, but Justin Trudeau made me proud this week in China.

What did the prime minister do?

First of all, he defended western values against a determined communist bully. Secondly, he once again made the essential point that until there’s a common set of rules between nations, including the rights of workers to form labour unions and undertake collective bargaining, growing trade deficits and protectionism will unravel the post-war international trading system.

In Trudeau’s words: “The world is at a pivot point and will fail unless countries embrace free trade and elevate their citizens who have been left behind by globalization.”

You’d have thought conservatives would have rejoiced at a Liberal standing up for Canadians. But no, they slammed him.

National Post columnist John Ivison lambasted the prime minister for violating the (so-called) golden rules of trade dealing: “you never try to impose your own values; you never interpret acknowledgment during a meeting as agreement; and you don’t assume the people in that meeting have the authority to strike a deal.”

I’m not sure what Ivison was thinking when he wrote this, but those are golden rules for supplicants, not for a free people.

First of all, let’s consider the human rights Trudeau championed. These are not only Canadian values, they’re the values written into the charter of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, founding principles of international organizations China is a signatory to.

I suppose we can’t hold dictators to their word – that might cause the Chinese leadership to lose face.

Why are commonly-agreed rights for labour important to sustainable international trade? In the absence of meaningful rights for Chinese workers, this world-class labour pool will continue to be subject to massive and continuous exploitation, both by profit-seeking multinational corporations and by their own government.

The resulting climate of oppression is no longer referred to as a human rights violation. It has morphed into China’s ‘competitive advantage.’ The reality is that the Communist Party of China has no intention of improving the lot of their workers.

Ironically, China needs a domestic rights revolution in order to unleash the internal consumer demand that will fuel its next stage of growth. But China’s communist leadership is not willing to even entertain the idea.

However, the fact remains that the appalling behaviour of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is a slap in the face to Canada. His snub was an insult to the first western nation to grant diplomatic recognition to the communist regime back in October 1970.

Did Ivison at least acknowledge this slight to our country?

No, he had the audacity to suggest Canadians should stop complaining and accept the inevitable: “China is in the process of ushering in a new world order – a model of global governance that’s an alternative to western liberal democracy.”

We’ve seen that kind of world order before. It’s called subjugation. Previous generations of Canadians were clear-headed enough to stand against this kind of oppression; many hundreds of thousands fought and died to defend the world against its dominion.

Granted, China’s trade negotiators played the Canadians for fools. But a country that negotiates with such astonishing duplicity (incompetence?) should be reminder enough that until and unless the Communist Party loosens its grip on China, they’ll always be adversaries rather than partners in international relations.

The truth is that the leaders in China are finally showing the world their true colours. Behind their open-trade rhetoric, they’ve always thought of trade as the Art of War – a war against the liberal West they intend to win at all costs.

It’s no exaggeration to say that a Red Curtain is falling across the East, in much the same fashion that an Iron Curtain fell across Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Will we have the moral fortitude to stand against this Asian bully? The very best we can hope for with China in its present form is managed trade. Anything else is wishful thinking.

Yes, Justin Trudeau got ambushed and badly out-manoeuvred by his communist hosts in China. But his act of rebellion is noted and approved by many around the world who still believe in human progress and hope to build a better, fairer world.

Troy media columnist Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm.

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