Recently, the China Brief took life at our most recent Pop-up Policy event. The Canada West Foundation, along with the Canadian International Council (Calgary branch) hosted China trade expert Brett Stephenson for an “on-the-ground” Asian perspective and insights into the current Canada-China trade and political conflicts. Brett, a native Calgarian, is the Greater China Director of the pan-Asia Asia Business Trade Association (ABTA), and the Co-Chair for the Policy and Government Relations Committee with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. Previously, he worked for the American Chamber of Commerce in China as government affairs and energy coordinator, and for the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources.

Our Pop-up Policy events are informal gatherings of staff and our CWF friends at our office to hear from guest speakers and talk about interesting policy issues.

Policy interns Taylor Blaisdell and Jessica Telizyn look at  five key takeaways from Brett’s Pop-up talk:

The China-U.S. relationship is in a structural downturn due to both U.S. and China competing for next-generation technology and for the U.S. business community turning negative towards China.

The U.S. business community in China was always the ballast of the relationship between the U.S. and China. Over the past five years, the business community began to shift away from the positive outlook towards China and towards one of pessimism. This was due to host of issues relating to IP theft, unclear rules and regulations, lack of transparency, an unfair playing field towards foreign companies versus domestic companies, and restrictions on market access and other non-tariff barriers.

Both the U.S. and EU have become aligned in opposition to China’s model for leaping ahead in next generation technologies.

From the lack of movement on promises made by China on WTO opening (legal services, government procurement, insurance, etc…) to China’s Made in China 2025 plan to acquire next generation technologies at the expense of foreign companies and preventing foreign companies from freely competing in China – all of which have contributed to the hardening of the U.S. position and has prompted a soft hardening position by the EU towards China. This change in the international environment has brought China and Canada into its current downward trend in relations.

There is a lack of deep understanding and a misinformed approach when engaging with China. 

A general lack of deep knowledge in decision-makers is holding back Canada when trying to improve its relationship with China. Some experts who have specialized in the China-Canada relationship for an extensive period have struggled to evolve a modern and realistic view of China today. Decision-makers in government and business also have an outdated view of China due to a lack of people with significant China experience (people who have lived in China permanently over the past five years or so). This has handicapped Canada’s ability to monitor international events involving China and has prevented Canada from having a coherent response to the recent downturn in Canada-China relations

Conflicting interests in Canada make engaging with China a lot more difficult than it needs to be.

With both political and business messaging contradicting each other, Canada is sending mixed messages on current relations with China. Those with narrow business and elite interests are making a mockery of Canada’s stature in foreign affairs. Once there is a reset in relations, a reset is needed in Canada on our trade associations and organizations to upgrading thinking and approaches when working with China. 

More boots on the ground in China can help Canada gain traction. 

Should Canada and China come to an eventual reset, Canada must also upgrade it’s non-governmental capacity in China and throughout Asia. By having more boots on the ground, better trade associations, and local business staff/offices in the region, it can create much better feedback loops to decision makers in Canada on market opportunities, challenges, and changes in the international environment in Asia. In addition, the Chinese government and business counterparts would welcome having Canadian businesses and governments would welcome more informed decision makers in business and government.

A big thanks to Brett for coming to chat with us, and to everyone who came to participate in this Pop-up! Make sure you’re signed up to get news from the Canada West Foundation and to receive the details about the next Pop-up Policy event.

Taylor Blaisdell and Jessica Telizyn are policy interns at the Canada West Foundation