OTTAWA — The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has begun using what experts are calling "subtle but meaningful" shifts in diplomatic language in an effort to improve relations with China - changes that have drawn approval from Beijing.
Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier delivered a speech to Asian ambassadors behind closed doors in Ottawa last Wednesday, where he asserted, in unusually unqualified terms, Canada's support for a "one-China policy."
"We recognize the Government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China," Mr. Bernier said, according to a text of his speech.
"This remains the core of our China policy. It guides our bilateral relationship with the PRC. It informs our position on Tibet. And it provides a framework that supports peace and security in the Taiwan Strait."
Mr. Bernier also said Canada was concerned that the March 22 referendum on Taiwan joining the United Nations "needlessly escalates tensions across the Strait." ( Well, is this impling that Canada is against a democracy event?)
On Thursday, when a backbench Conservative MP asked a planted question in the House of Commons about protests in Tibet, Mr. Bernier prefaced his expression of concern with an unusual preamble: "Canada has a one-China policy."
Charles Burton, a Brock University professor and former Canadian diplomat in China, said the preamble was unnecessary and intended to send a message.
While in the eyes of many Canada has had a "one-China policy" since it established diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1970, the use of the phrase by government ministers has always come with qualifications or caveats.
Usually, ministers add that Canada merely "takes note" of China's claim to Taiwan.
"Mr. Bernier is suggesting a subtle but meaningful change in Conservative government rhetoric on China that would be very well received by the Chinese embassy in Ottawa," Mr. Burton said. "It would suggest that Canada supports Chinese government claims to legitimate sovereignty over Taiwan and over Tibet."
Government sources in Ottawa say the new language is intentional and is aimed at breaking a diplomatic logjam that worsened when Mr. Harper agreed to meet the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist spiritual leader who also heads Tibet's "government-in-exile," in November.
Mr. Bernier's statements were well-received in Beijing, where the Chinese Foreign Ministry's official spokesman, Qin Gang, went out of his way to applaud Wednesday's speech.
The government news agency Xinhua reported that Mr. Qin said: "China applauds [Mr. Bernier] saying that the Canadian government values relations with China, adheres to the one-China policy, regards the People's Republic of China government as the sole legal government of China, and opposes Taiwan authorities' proposed 'referendum on UN membership.' ''
He also expressed hope for improving China-Canada relations - a hope that will sit well with Canadian diplomats who have been frozen out, and business people who have complained that trade ties have been affected.
The deputy minister of foreign affairs, Leonard Edwards, spent three days in China last November without being able to get a single meeting with Chinese counterparts.
And Chinese officials boycotted meetings of a Canada-China working group of bureaucrats.
The Conservatives had previously allied themselves with supporters of Taiwan's positions and Tibetan autonomy - and Mr. Harper said in 2006 that he would pointedly press human-rights concerns with Beijing and not sell out to the "almighty dollar." ( 2 years later, today, they still sold out to the Almighty Dollar)
Bruce Gilley, a Queen's University professor who has advocated a tough line on rights and democracy, said the Conservatives started out planning to shake things up, but have fallen back in confusion.
Wow, from recognizing Taiwan and Tibet to this? I guess our lives don't mean much to Canada now because we obviously worth less than the trade benefits Canada get from China and USA.
Good job Canada! I have a brand new respect for ya!