The long arm of a Chinese trade deal

Taking democracy for granted has consequences for all of us.

China has been on my mind lately. The headlines about the Prime Minister’s first official visit to China ahead of the G20 summit in Hangzhou certainly has me concerned about how Chinese government officials could wield their negotiating power in ways that have complex, long-lasting repercussions for both our countries. But most often, I find myself worrying about the people in my life who are deeply affected by the increasingly draconian reign of the current Chinese government.

While Canadian media, Bay Street elites and Alberta Big Oil are hoping to “reset Canada’s trade relationship”, I’m worried about the impact the Xi Jinping regime is having on the people I know and love.

I worry about my husband, who studies and teaches modern Chinese history at SFU, and worries every time he takes a research trip that it may finally be the time the government decides his topics are too controversial and bans him from the country.

I worry about my husband’s Chinese colleagues who face much harsher consequences – ruined livelihoods and reputations, families terrorized by state security, ritual public shaming of the type not seen since the Cultural Revolution, arrest – if their research runs afoul of government sensibilities or contradicts the state propaganda of the moment.

As a Dogwood staffer, and someone raising my family two kilometers from the Kinder Morgan tank farm in Burnaby, I’m worried that Prime Minister Trudeau will cave to the Chinese government’s demands and sign off on the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline to ease the way for a new trade deal.

While this international trade-off would end up putting my family at greater risk of harm to life and limb, our friends in China are living with more acute threats on a daily basis. They have to put air masks on their children to protect them from toxic pollution and are constantly calibrating the way they live their lives against the ideological winds of the current regime. Imagine having to decide if you dare to organize a protest when your music teacher disappears with all the money you paid for lessons because it might seem too threatening to local authorities and their informants?

Then there are our neighbours here in Burnaby – Mom and kids live here while Dad “commutes” back and forth every other month to Shanghai. And my babysitter whose childhood was all hard work so she could earn the opportunity to study Psychology at SFU and try crazy new things like taking care of other people’s kids for money.

The ripple effects of authoritarian government and economic change in China are multiple and travel far. We are now feeling them at home in B.C.. I worry that people like my neighbours and my babysitter could be targeted if the backlash against the outsized effect of recent migration on local  real estate markets turns into racist scapegoating.

People  have marshalled all their resources to relocate their families to safe, stable places like B.C. even if it means tearing those families apart. Why? Because here they can breathe the air, let their children enjoy childhood, and take their studies beyond government propaganda and fierce job market competition.

I’m worried. But I’m also hopeful. I hope my fellow Canadians will not point fingers next door or abroad, but instead channel their frustration and anger about the local effects of global trade and corporate greed into holding our municipal, provincial and federal governments accountable.

We are so privileged to live in a democracy. But as we learned during the Harper era, democracy requires eternal vigilance. We cannot afford to waste this privilege.

So let’s not point fingers, let’s not bury our heads in the sand and avoid difficult conversations. Instead, let’s stand up against racist scapegoating.  Let’s stand up and demand that our provincial and federal governments promote fair trade (not just free trade) and policies that protect our democracy and environment from any government or corporation (whether foreign or domestic)  that would trample on the rights of everyday people.

We cannot afford to waste our chance to pressure the B.C. government to adopt laws that provide access to affordable housing for all British Columbians. We cannot afford to squander our chance to ensure Trudeau, cabinet and local MPs stand up for British Columbians and refuse to bargain away our coast and our climate commitments in exchange for an unneeded and unwanted west coast bitumen pipeline.

It won’t be easy — democracy never is — but I’m confident by working together we can persevere and overcome any attempts by elites here, or in China, to compromise our path towards the just, equitable and sustainable future our kids deserve and our survival requires.

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8 Responses to “The long arm of a Chinese trade deal”

  1. Thank you for this educated opinion on our precarious relationship with China in political terms. I believe Canada is about to make decisions that will determine our economic future to our peril or to a path of environmental progress. China has to understand that we are already friends. We have to find a way to continue to be without new pipelines.
    Canada is a multicultural country that is home to many Chinese to our great benefit as our friends and neighbors. They should not be made to suffer for unpopular political decisions.

  2. rodrick says:

    problem we have here is we have no way of recalling mla’s,mp’s ,mpp’s except at election time and bye that time the damage has been done look at voting reform and the pipeline routes and the lack of proper open meetings

    • Agreed. We have to move beyond these measures. We need leadership from our experienced and creative citizens; and we need solidarity and perseverance to put effective plans in action. We need all Canadians to be involved, and that means giving up one’s quiet self-centred life and seeing the whole and one’s place in it. Sounds like community to me. We are citizens everyday, not just on Election Day.

  3. A public inquiry is needed and consultation with Canadian people and municipal, provincial and federal government both Liberals and Conservatives pass and present must be held accountable.

  4. Owen Barry Whiting. says:

    The oil and gas industry deliberately attempts to do business as usual, even knowing as they have of eventual co2 damage to the environment since the 1960s. On behalf of my children and theirs I must and will spend my energies opposed to the economy being more important than our collective well being. OBW.

  5. I recently signed a post card petition that outlines the horrific organ harvesting in China, where people who are not popular with the Chinese government are killed and their organs are sold off for use in wealthy people. I am appalled that our Canadian government is working so hard to get a deal with them.Imagine if you will what would happen in Canada if your next door neighbor was killing people and selling their body parts. I don’t think they would get a pass on that . Why would we do business with people who do that to their own people? Yes indeed, ugly in the extreme. Maybe, the Liberal M.P’s in B.C. should hear about this. I wonder if they would approve of this disgusting practice, just to get a trade deal.


    there must be some way to break a contract if it is treasonous to the country! I say lets take a vote and give the Liberals the power they need to break Harper’s stupid–when I heard of him giving China the capacity to force a change in our laws if they did not suit China’s agenda here I was horrified. My 90 yr old father was a staunch Conservative his whole life and was so angry at this Harper treason we feared he would give himself a heart attack–I am glad he is no longer with us after 96 years to see the effects of that agreement

  7. Eva Lyman says:

    China will try to push Justin to allow Chinese ownership of our energy resources, and allow Chinese labour to extract it (cheaper). Objecting to this is not racism on our part, it’s protecting Canadian interests. Australia allowed this to China, and are finding too few benefits for Australians.

    I think the tax on foreign investors who do not live in the numerous houses they buy (and not just Chinese investors) is the least Vancouver can do to slow down the rise in prices, beyond the reach of families who may have lived there for 2 or even 3 generations. For example, a home bought in the 60’s for $15,000 is now assessed for 1.5 million dollars. The owners are not millionaires, they are the same average working people who have lived there for decades and have deep roots in the community. They are now struggling to stay there, in the home and community they love. This is the real issue: keeping communities together.

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