Canada must find new ways to engage as China’s superpower status grows, says expert

Dr. Paul Evans, left, talks with student after presentation at TRU Wednesday night.

Dr. Paul Evans talks with student after presentation Wednesday night.


China will continue to expand as a military and economic superpower, and Canada needs to find new ways to engage with it, a guest lecturer told an audience of 40 at Thompson Rivers University on Wednesday night.

“Asia is not ‘over there,’ Asia is here,” said Dr. Paul Evans, who appeared as a guest lecturer for Dr. Robert Hanlon’s “Selected Topics: China and Canada” political science course as part of a soft launch tour for his new book, Engaging China: Myth, Aspiration, and Strategy in Canadian Politics from Trudeau to Harper.

The book is part of a new series from University of Toronto Press called “Insight,” which features works of no more than 40,000 words, designed to be accessible while still being scholarly.

Attendees were a mixture of students of the class, TRU faculty, and community members.

Evans identified “three winds blowing” in the future of Chinese politics and the rest of Asia: continued growth in the already massive Chinese economy, integration with Asia at large in such things as communications and tourism, and unstable security relations.

He asserted that the most likely cause of any armed conflict involving China would not be in the South or East China Sea, but rather spring from the melting Himalayas, which are set to yield China control of a huge portion of the world’s fresh water supply.

Asia, he noted, has no equivalent to the European Union or NATO, making the defense situation more dangerous.

He also outlined the contents of his book, which he stressed was particularly intended for the “younger generation,” which will be most affected by rising China.

The book outlines Canada’s foreign policy on China from the Pierre Trudeau to Stephen Harper administrations.

Trudeau, he said, was the first Canadian prime minister to spend significant time in China before taking office, visiting in 1949 and again in 1960.

He pursued a strategy of engagement with China, distinct from containment or confrontation, for three primary reasons: bringing China out of isolation, commercial development, and — the final reason unique to Canada — “moral enterprise,” that is, a desire to help China rise out of what he liked to call “an encyclopedia of social problems.”

Paul Martin expanded on this and first created an official strategic partnership in 2005 but Harper spent 2006-2009 pursuing a policy of “cool partnership and warm economics.”

Recently he’s started building a stronger partnership, though Evans said it’s “precarious.”

Evans is an instructor and researcher at the University of B.C.’s Liu Institute for Global Issues & Institute of Asian Research, and former co-CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

He has lived in several cities in China.

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