Column

China’s Fling Dynasty has a $200-billion shopping list, but Canada gets the crumbs

Roderick McQueen February 26 1979
Column

China’s Fling Dynasty has a $200-billion shopping list, but Canada gets the crumbs

Roderick McQueen February 26 1979

China’s Fling Dynasty has a $200-billion shopping list, but Canada gets the crumbs

Column

Roderick McQueen

Non-Orientals born in China who tried to enter the United States in the 1950s and ’60s might have had an easier time of it had they been carrying suitcases of Legionnaire’s Disease. Some, when asked for place of birth, would mutter “La Chine” in the vague hope that U.S. border officials would think of Quebec, not yellow peril, communism and fireworks. These days the East is still Red, but the West has thrown back the welcoming bedcovers as China comes looking for drill bits, dial tones and four-wheel drive. Planning to modernize by the year 2000, China has entered the Fling Dynasty with a shopping list $200billion long. And Canada gets naught but the inscrutable crumbs, with $2.5 billion in trade directed to the U.S. in two months, $20 billion to Japan negotiated in the last year and a $13.5-billion trade agreement with France. After eight years of diplomatic recognition,

Canada continues to live off bread alone. Boldstroke recognition of 900 million people is now only a slight crease as Canada’s advantage disappears down the special hole supposedly dug to China.

While the U.S. sweated through PingPong diplomacy, Canada played bureaucrat, the game where the first person who moves, loses. Even after Richard Nixon’s historic Peking visit in 1972, Canada smugly pondered the revered Canadian-born Norman Bethune, hero of Chairman Mao’s revolution, seen as silent salesman with his forte in the door. But, like the failed attempt to become the bilingual and multicultural model of world serenity, it looks like another lost opportunity. Canadian businessmen, happiest doing deals close to home, bumped up against a bureaucracy they didn’t understand and offered products they were unsure were required to a system where deals were uncertain. As the missions fizzled and the Gang of Four raged, businessmen went elsewhere or stayed home, pretending to be patient. Eight federal cabinet-led missions in eight

years have produced little but words.

Wheat has been the commodity leader since 1960, making up 80 per cent of 1977’s $390 million in exports. Alcan Aluminium Ltd. has recently signed a three-year ingot contract, worth about $30 million a year, and a $150-million contract through 50-per-cent-owned Nippon Light Metal Co. to build an aluminum smelter. Control Data Canada, Ltd. has a deal for $69 million in computer equipment. But the numbers pale beside U.S. deals during the same time period: $800 million for a Fluor Corp.

copper mine; Sky Caravan hotels worth $700 million; three Boeing 747s at $156 million; $500 million in Intercontinental hotels; $500 million for a Bethlehem Steel iron ore mine. And so it goes. Lack of Canadian aggressiveness has become so well-known and widespread that China’s ambassador to Canada, Wang Tung, has been urging more haste. Piled on this achingly deliberate pace, there has also been unnecessary deference by Canadians worried that China had streetlighting when Canadians painted themselves with woad. Trouble, too, is that Canada recognized a people in 1970 while last December the U.S. recognized a market, and saw that creating symbol was as important as crafting substance. Thus the nine-day visit of Chinese Deputy Premier Teng Hsiao-ping to the U.S. this month as Middle Kingdom met Middle America and a packaged media blitz back home spouted Coca-colonization after 30 hostile years. Teng dined with Washington’s toniest, including the rehabilitated Richard Nixon, prov-

ing that the U.S., too, is capable of revisionist history. Teng touched Ford LTDs on a Georgia assembly line, tipped the traditional Stetson to 900 Houston businessmen, squatted in a space shuttle simulator and marvelled at jumbo jets. And just to show the East’s sense of irony about culture’s brash hash, Charlie Chaplin’s anti-industrial 1936 classic, Modern Times, plays in Peking. But, to show sense of purpose, Chinese consulates may be established in Houston and San Francisco before Toronto.

As it watched Teng mugging with the Harlem Globetrotters, Canadian business must have felt like a team that plays against the Globetrotters. After all, Canada could have shown off its branchplant American technology. Indeed, that’s part of the problem in this, the year of our gored, 1979. Comments Dr. Paul Lin, head of McGill’s Centre for East Asian Studies: “The Americans are moving so fast it’s incredible. We’re marking time waiting for an election.” Lin, along with others, is looking for lubricants, the kind of slick stuff other governments are pouring. Teng’s U.S. visit, reminiscent of Khrushchev’s 1959 frisk through the corn belt, is only one kind of grease. Another is silver, as Britain deposits $1.5 billion in the Bank of China at low interest rates to pay for imported technology.While promising proposals for Canada involve communications, hydro, mining, port development and offshore drilling, most likely announcements will be on commodities such as potash, pulp and sulphur. The vaunted leg-up offered by early recognition and the Bethune connection was at worst a delusion; at best it has been frittered away, replaced by boardroom and cabinet table frustration. There is now a desperate need for Canada to buy from China, to build government-business bridges and create imaginative Canadian financial packages. Without that, Canada, once a proud trading nation, will become an international patsy, a strewer of wheat and drawer of short straws.