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Foreign Affairs

Speech at Tsinghua University

Posted on July 5, 2010

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Beijing, China

It is an honour to speak to you today.

In 1860, my great grandfather—a diplomat in the service of the Russian Czar—arrived in Peking.

Nicolai Pavlovitch Ignatieff is not the most popular figure in Chinese history books. He took advantage of Chinese weakness in a troubled time and secured a treaty that ceded the territory of the Amur-Ussuri basin for Russia.

A stronger China would never have signed such a treaty. Happily a strong China today enjoys good relations with Russia along these once troubled borders.

This story has a lesson to teach about historical perspective. It took place in an anomalous time in world history—a time when China was not a leading power.

China is not only a sovereign nation, it is a great civilization in history. It is important that it be understood today in historical perspective. Its peaceful rise is indeed a “re-rise.”

One hundred and fifty years later, I am the Russian diplomat’s great grandson, but I’m pleased to be in Beijing as the leader of a democratic, Canadian political party that is proud of its historic role in establishing and maintaining an enduring friendship with China over 40 years based on mutual respect and equality.

In my meeting with President Hu Jintao, on the eve of the G-20 summit in Canada, the President expressed his appreciation for the constructive role that three Liberal Prime Ministers—Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chretien, and Paul Martin—have played in adding a personal commitment to the relationship between Canada and China.

I want to bring the same element of sustained personal commitment to the relationship, as party leader, and if the people of Canada decide, as Prime Minister.

And now, a second story.

In October 1966, as a young student, I helped organize a teach-in on China that attracted several thousand people to the University of Toronto to study the unfolding crisis of the Cultural Revolution.

Many of the experts at the teach-in viewed the events sweeping across China in a positive light, as the needed renewal of a revolution stifled by bureaucracy. As outsiders, we had no idea of the violence and chaos that were to follow.

I learned from that experience how difficult it is to understand China from the outside, and how difficult it is to predict China’s future.

No one at that teach-in in 1966 could have imagined the level of development that China has attained since the Cultural Revolution.

Western illusions and Western fears have often distorted our image of China. It is good to bear in mind the wise remark attributed to Deng Xiaoping, who led China out of the turbulence of the Cultural Revolution. He once said, “Seek truth from the facts.”

I come here—with my delegation—to seek truth from the facts, and to strengthen a friendship based on true understanding. I especially look forward to your questions after I have concluded.

Finally, I’d like to refer to my experience as a professor of human rights at Harvard University—an institution which, as you know, prides itself on being the Tsinghua of the United States!

In any great international university that attracts students from many countries, debates about human rights will be vigorous and challenging. These debates taught me to appreciate the distance between principles and practice in every country, including my own.

I am a proud Canadian, proud of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the rights we accord religious and linguistic minorities, and the constitutional acknowledgement of our Aboriginal peoples.

I will defend these achievements everywhere, but I am not blind to the gap that exists between our ideals and reality for some of my fellow citizens. Indeed, I am in politics to narrow that gap.

My party’s reason for being is to fight for those Canadians who do not enjoy equality of opportunity, secure jobs and an honourable retirement.

In my classroom at Harvard, there were vigorous debates about China. My Chinese students did not always see eye to eye with other students on such issues as the death penalty, the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, access to the Internet and the largest issue of all, to what degree, to what extent, and at what level, economic liberalization should be followed by increased democratic rights.

But I made it clear that the ultimate decision about these questions will be made, not by foreigners, but by the Chinese people themselves.

And, further, the prosperity that has lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens out of absolute poverty has been one of the most significant advances in human rights for mankind ever.

Finally, hundreds of millions more middle-class Chinese—many of your generation in this classroom—enjoy unprecedented freedom to travel, to work, to earn and save and to accumulate property.

In my talks with Chinese leaders, I will always seek to acknowledge the enormous progress that China has made, and share my honest views about the progress that is still possible.

Je suis ici aujourd’hui pour vous parler franchement des relations de la Chine avec le Canada.

La montée de la Chine change la place du Canada dans le monde. Au XIXe siècle, le Canada se percevait comme un pays de l’Atlantique Nord lié à ses anciennes mères patries européennes. Au XXe siècle, notre économie et notre culture étaient fortement influencées par notre voisin du Sud.

Les anciennes relations du Canada avec l’Europe et les États-Unis vont durer. Mais il ne fait guère de doute que la montée de la Chine et de l’Inde a déplacé vers l’ouest le centre de gravité du Canada – le centre de son activité économique et son identité même.

Nous découvrons notre identité en tant que pays de la zone Pacifique lié aux puissances naissantes de l’Asie par des relations géographiques et familiales ainsi que par des intérêts communs.

I would like to suggest that both Canada and China should be much more ambitious about our relationship.

We have seen the relationship in narrow terms, as a trading relationship based on your interest in our natural resources and our interest in your vast domestic market.

But with that centre of gravity shifting in the global economy, we need arrangements that go beyond old-fashioned trade agreements in order to take advantage of the full range of connections between our countries.

My Party has recently proposed a new kind of bilateral agreement—a Global Network Agreement. It is found in our comprehensive international policy, which we call Canada in the World: A Global Networks Strategy.

A pillar of that new policy is a commitment to take Canada-China relations to a new level, acting on new ideas, while building on decades of friendship.

Nous devons également accroître la circulation des personnes, du savoir, de la culture, de l’innovation et des investissements – toutes les relations nécessaires pour favoriser la prospérité du Canada comme de la Chine au XXIe siècle.

C’est ce que fera un « accord sur les réseaux mondiaux » de la prochaine génération. Il s’agira d’un nouveau genre d’accord bilatéral qui ira plus loin que le commerce.

The objective is to increase not only our exports, but also a wider range of business transactions and investment, and the constant flows of people and knowledge, cultural exchange, research and development cooperation—all of which drive the global economy today.

That requires a much more serious and sustained commitment to deepening relationships. The two national governments have an essential role to play in leading a long-term, sustained focus on strengthening people to people connections.

The proposed “Global Network Agreement” can be a framework carrying the backing of each country’s most senior leadership. It could provide an umbrella under which sector-specific action plans, deliverables, and timelines will be worked out for joint projects and exchanges between the two countries at all levels—not just between governments, but also involving business, academia and civil society.

We would need to discuss which sectors to prioritize, but they could include: higher education, clean energy and other environmental technology, financial services and investment, cultural exchange, transport and logistics, tourism, agri-food, as well as a full range of cooperation on governance and public administration.

As part of this approach we are also proposing to create a scholarship program, called the Canada Global Scholarships, to give outstanding students the opportunity to study in Canada.

We will work with Canadian provincial and municipal leaders who have come to China to promote Canada. Indeed, a renewed approach to the “Team Canada” missions which my predecessor, Jean Chrétien, initiated here in China in 1994 will be part of our Global Networks strategy.

And we will work with Chinese-Canadian communities across Canada.

Les Canadiens tirent fierté du fait que près de 1,5 million de leurs concitoyens sont d’origine chinoise.

Nous sommes fiers du fait que le cantonais et le mandarin sont les langues les plus parlées au Canada, après l’anglais et le français.

Our people are connected to China by family and culture—and there are more than 300,000 Canadians living and working in China. And today, so many people are living and working, creating wealth and knowledge in both countries at the same time.

The 21st century will be defined by unprecedented global flows of knowledge, people and capital. Every society will have to be open to the world.

Every country will have to work to maintain unity and harmony among peoples of different faiths, ethnicities, and national origins.

Canada has been a leader in managing our diversity. We are proud of the harmony we have achieved.

And as China continues to work toward fostering a harmonious society, Canada must remain engaged with China, as we have been in the past, on important issues of mutual concern.

We must be ready to speak plainly with one another about human rights, always understanding that neither of our countries has a flawless past or present, and always conscious of the vast differences in our respective histories, societies, and political cultures.

Canada can contribute more to the development of human rights in China and to strengthening the rule of law through this array of people-to-people interactions, than by megaphone diplomacy.

We should move forward together, to learn from each other in matters of rights, justice, civil service reform, and corporate social responsibility.

As China works to strengthen its social welfare systems, Canada can share its own experience in building a universal healthcare system for example, or putting public pensions on sound footing, as we did in the 1990s.

We also have important opportunities to collaborate on advancing multilateral architecture like the G-20, and emerging and existing regional bodies, as well as on major global issues such as climate change, financial regulation, and development.

We have much to learn from each other. And we have often seen that we are successful when we look at the task in three essential steps:

First we build friendships and build trust. Second, we understand the differences between us. Then, third, we work together to benefit from each other’s experience.

I’m in China to build relationships and build trust.

I’m in China to understand, to listen, and to learn.

I am here to engage China as a friend to Canada, and to speak frankly, as good friends do.

And I intend to be back frequently.

Thank you so much for being here, and I am very eager to hear your questions.