BACKSTAGE At Ottawa

Can Canada Bridge the Gap?

BLAIR FRASER April 16 1955
BACKSTAGE At Ottawa

Can Canada Bridge the Gap?

BLAIR FRASER April 16 1955

Can Canada Bridge the Gap?

BACKSTAGE At Ottawa

BLAIR FRASER

BOTH at home and abroad Canada is being urged to play a more active role in trying to break the deadlock, or at least bridge the gap in communications, between the United States and Communist China.

Canada is close enough to Washington to know several things about United States policy which the Red Chinese should know too:

Ottawa is assured on high authority that the U. S. expects and intends the Communist Chinese to take over the coastal islands such as Quemoy and Matsu. The U. S. has promised to help defend these islands against Communist attack, because the U. S. has no intention of yielding to force, but neither is there any intention to hang on to these scraps of territory indefinitely. Just when or how they are to be reunited with mainland China is a question of timing and tactics; in the end, though, and before any great lapse of time, the Nationalist Chinese will have to withdraw.

The United States has told Chiang Kai-shek flatly and bluntly that his only future is on the island of Formosa and that he must give up all idea of re-invading the mainland. Chiang knows he can’t invade China without massive U. S. aid, and he knows now that he won’t get it.

In other words, Communist China doesn’t need to fight to win the coastal islands; they will fall into her lap if she just waits a bit. Meanwhile, Communist China needn’t fear that they’ll be used as beachheads for an attack on the mainland, because no such attack will occur.

But Americans are convinced, rightly or wrongly, that it would be a grave mistake to act on these principles here and now. They think

any further retreat at the moment, in the face of Communist threats, would be construed as an admission of weakness and would have a disastrous effect on Western prestige in Asia. They think it would shatter morale not only in Formosa itself (which they regard as very important) but also in Southeast Asia where the political battle with Communism is joined. They think countries like South Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, perhaps even Burma would he led to conclude that tho Communist side is the winning sida and the one for a smart little country to join.

Therefore they can’t simply demonstrate to Red China, by actions speaking louder than words, that they intend to let the coastal islands go and firmly “leash” Chiang Kaishek on Formosa. So the problem is how to let Communist China know what U. S. intentions really are?

UP TO NOW the Western world has had two main channels of communication with Peiping, one through Britain and the other through India.

India’s relations with the Red Chinese Government are pretty good. Unfortunately her relations with the United States are poor and are growing no better. India tends to be sceptical of American professions, and Americans are more than sceptical of India’s firm dedication to the anti-Communist side. For both reasons, India is a poor messenger in the present case.

Britain has the opposite difficulty. Her relations with the U. S., in spite of superficial appearances and the trumpetings of Labour Party politicians, are those of a trusted ally. Unfortunately the Communist Chinese distrust the British for precisely this reason. On several recent occasions British attempts to convey the U. S. point of view to Peiping have been rudely brushed off.

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Backstage at Ottawa

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Canada, so far, seems to stand between these undesirable extremes. Ottawa’s contacts with Washington are cordial and candid at all levels. Ot-

tawa’s contacts with Peiping are few and somewhat devious but they seem to be reasonably good—better, at any rate, than those of any other confidant of the United States.

Of course Canada has no ambassador in Peiping itself and nobody is suggesting we should appoint one now—the question of diplomatic recognition of Red China is, for the moment, purely academic. Rather, the suggestion is that Canadian diplomats in other capitals, notably Chester Ronning in Norway, who used to be in China, should make a point of passing on

information to their Chinese colleagues in the diplomatic corps.

Americans say they have no objection, nothing but approval of this proposal. Nevertheless, Ottawa has some doubts.

Dag Hammarskjöld, United Nations Secretary-General, went to Peiping with Washington’s acquiescence to see what he could do to free the U. S. flyers imprisoned in China as “spies.” Hammarskjöld thought he got on pretty well. He had some useful conversations, made some useful personal contacts, learned some useful

things about Chinese policies and plans. He came back after having opened a new line of communication with the remote and isolated Chinese.

But he found, to his own and others' dismay, that in doing so he had lost his line of communication with Washington. Because he had made some guardedly polite statements in and about Communist China, the Americans concluded he was a naïve dupe, if not worse, and seemed to lose all further confidence in him and his opinions.

Ottawa’s afraid the same thing might happen to Canada’s spokesmen if they were to become messengers across the no man’s land of the cold war. If it did, nothing would be gained and one of Canada’s most valued assets would be lost, her special entrée in Washington.

So the cautious are advising Ottawa to wait, at least, until we have something solid and constructive to put forward, rather than offer to be merely a dispatch rider. Canada and other allied countries have been greatly concerned about the dim prospects for a cease fire in the Formosa Straits. Negotiation seems to be out of the question, since neither side will accept even the preliminary terms of the other, but on the other hand a merely tacit cease-fire agreement—and end to the fighting without any overt statement by either side—is regarded here as a perilous and fragile compromise.

Canada would like something better, something solid in black and white. If it’s impossible to get a bilateral agreement by negotiation between China and the U. S., maybe it will be possible to get a more general agreement to “neutralize” Formosa, a sort of open declaration to which any nation could subscribe of its own volition.

If circumstances should favor this or some other positive and definite action toward peace in Formosa, these advisers say, it would be a pity if Canada’s usefulness had already been damaged by premature effects as a messenger.

FIFTY YEARS AFTER it was first broached as an international project, and twenty-four years after the first treaty for its construction was signed, the St. Lawrence Seaway comes into being this month as a visible and actual project.

Formal ground breaking took place last fall, but not much more than that. Now, at Montreal and at Cornwall, Ont., the big job is really in progress at last.

Between the Jacques Cartier Bridge over Montreal harbor and Victoria Bridge over the shallows below the Laehine Rapids, about a hundred and fifty men were to be at work before the end of March. They’re digging a channel and building a dike along the south side of the river there—actually in the river bed, a thousand feet from the present south shore, hut through shallows seldom more than ten feet deep and in some places only two feet. When the twenty-seven-foot channel is completed, and a dike raised another twenty-seven feet against the main stream of the St. Lawrence, it’s expected that the stretch between the channel and the present shore will be filled in to make several miles of new ground in front of the city of St. Lambert.

In the Iroquois area, just above Cornwall, another three hundred men start work this month on a canal and lock. Later this spring contracts will be let for locks near Laprairie, across the river from the western suburbs of Montreal, and at the nearby Indian village of Caughnawaga opposite Laehine.

Ontario Hydro also begins work on ito power dams and generators this summer. On seaway and power project combined, probably five thousand men will be working before the 1955 season ends. By next year the on-site employment will be about triple that figure, and is expected to remain at that maximum —fifteen thousand —through the season of 1958.

To some onlookers the employment figures for the St. Lawrence Seaway have been a disappointment and disillusion. Here’s Canada with about half a million people out of work, and here’s the biggest public work Canada’s ever undertaken, bigger than anything else we could possibly think up as a make-work project in a depression. And this gigantic job is going to employ, at its peak, no more than three percent of the present aggregate of unemployed.

Optimists say this is a shortsighted as well as a glum way to look at it. Some hundred million dollars is to be spent by Canada on this great task, under contracts which all stipulate that Canadian labor and materials shall be used whenever consistent with reasonable economy and dispatch. Whether r the men employed are shovel operators in Cornwall or tractor makers in Brantford doesn’t matter.

Employment figures for the region most affected by the seaway tend to bear out this point.

Last year the textile plants of Cornwall and Iroquois were in sad shape, like the rest of the Canadian textile industry. Their condition hasn’t improved—yet the registered unemployment in the Cornwall area is only half what it was in 1954. Total employment in the district hasn’t risen—it’s off by several index points from last year’s level—-but apparently the unemployed have been moving away. The big bulges in the 1955 unemployment totals are in such big cities as Montreal and Toronto.

Obviously it would now be twice as easy as it would have been last year to “cure” unemployment in Cornwall —only half as many jobs would be needed. But over all, the spring of 1955 is Canada’s worst unemployment season since before the war; a real cure for Cornwall’s troubles would have to affect the whole industrial complex of central Canada. That’s what the seaway is supposed to do. iç