Tag Archives: China

Finding Our Way: The Future of Canada’s China Strategy

Amidst rising tensions over trade and technology, Living with China author Wendy Dobson’s curiosity changed to alarm as she watched Canada get caught up in the growing antagonism between its two largest trading partners. Learn what led to her new book – and why she’s urging Canadians to up their game with a solid strategy.


Living with China is the latest in a series that began in 2009 with Gravity Shift, an examination of the long-term impacts of rapid growth in India and China. Canadians are the target audience and Canada’s relationship with China is the current focus. My initial motivation was curiosity about future directions in Asia that the new US administration might take. Curiosity quickly changed to alarm as Canada was caught up in the growing antagonism between the United States and China, its two largest trading partners. Long accustomed to a US-dominated unipolar world, Canada lacks a comprehensive strategy for living with an increasingly assertive China whose growing political and economic prominence in our future is a strategic reality.

Since 2013, when Xi Jinping became President and General Secretary of the Party, he has made it clear that China will follow its own path of authoritarian capitalism even as China becomes more active in the liberal international order. He has inserted Party control deeply into China’s economic life even at the expense of openness, growth, and employment goals.  

These competing goals have created significant tensions between market and state. Since 2017 the Party has responded to demands from the rapidly-growing middle class for more material and social gains. It has rebalanced policy to rely less on industrial growth and more on service-based, consumer-oriented growth. But the Party-state faces growing pressures from the US administration, which sees China as a strategic rival whose rising economic and political prominence it aims to thwart despite their deep interdependence. There are internal constraints as well. China’s technological and industrial innovation, which is essential to sustained growth, is constrained by the mixed signals sent by China’s authoritarian economic policies. Xi Jinping’s Made in China 2025 advanced manufacturing strategy relies on state-led directives and funding that dominate state-owned enterprises’ (SOEs) incentive frameworks at the expense of riskier private, market-led, bottom-up innovations. Further, recent evidence of declining productivity growth in non-state enterprises relative to SOEs reflects shrinking support for market liberalization that could undermine China’s long-term economic potential.

Canadian policy should take account of such tensions and their implications. As a middle power, Canada is acutely aware of being a policy taker in the diplomatic freeze following the US extradition request for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in late 2018. A comprehensive strategy for living with China should aim for coexistence and pursuit of mutual opportunities, yet be prepared to take stands to manage differences in values, norms, and institutions. The policy debate about Huawei’s 5G capabilities and related security concerns should be part of the evolving strategy of permitting trade to continue in non-sensitive items but imposing selective bans on sensitive equipment and processes. Even so, there will be a price to pay as Huawei and other Chinese enterprises expand into non-western markets and redouble their efforts to become self-sufficient in such key imported components as semiconductors.

Canada’s China strategy should adhere to principles that include (a) recognition of the fundamental reset underway in the US-China relationship from engagement to strategic rivalry, (b) a stated commitment to maintain open relationships with both protagonists, and (c) cooperation with like-minded governments to push the merits of coexistence and reciprocity. The strategy should be transparent and led from the top. It should recognize that many Canadians are unfamiliar with China, a shortcoming that could be addressed in part by measures such as more civic and educational exchanges and by White Paper policy studies like those used by Australians in the past two decades.

The China strategy should protect national sovereignty and national security in the uncertain international environment. Huawei’s funding of digital research in Canadian institutions has raised concerns about cybersecurity and protection of intellectual property. It underlines the importance of managing the relationships among security, trade, and investment. Canada should also become a more active player with middle powers in Asia to develop shared views and interests in regional security. Pushing for a multilateral governance structure in telecommunications that China would be attracted to join could be timely and helpful.

When bilateral tensions ease, efforts should continue to build on the strong complementarities between Chinese interests in secure supplies of food and natural resources and Canada’s abundant supplies. Trade talks are also hampered by the diplomatic freeze and by restrictions imposed in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on FTAs with planned economies. Sectoral talks are an alternative. They could begin with liberalization in sectors such as clean tech where there is a high level of common interest and then move to more difficult topics as part of a ”living” agreement that promotes liberalization but allows exceptions for politically sensitive sectors.

Another key strategic issue is China’s growing assertiveness as its influence grows. While bilateral engagement and accommodation are the strategic goals, it may be necessary to form multilateral alliances among governments and coalitions of civil society and the media. These alliances would make it possible to push back against Chinese influence and diversify trade in order to avoid heavy dependence on Chinese imports and civil exchanges.

Normalizing Canada’s relationship with China is unlikely in the short term. Multilateral pressures on China are desirable to adopt laws consistent with global standards. Group pressures on both China and the United States are desirable to promote coexistence rather than the current zero-sum rivalry. All of these strategic elements will take time to develop and follow through. As other middle powers have found, living with China requires focus, patience, and determination.


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Wendy Dobson is the Co-Director at Rotman Institute for International Business and a professor emerita of Economic Analysis and Policy.

Inequality and “the Global Question”

To mark the publication of Global Inequality, the first book in UTP’s new Anthropological Insights series, author Kenneth McGill explains the process of writing a book about inequality from a global perspective, and why the lessons in the book are necessary for today’s students.

UTP01_GlobalInequality_fullcover_R1.inddI have been one of those reluctant consumers of the scholarship on “globalization.” It has long seemed to me that even the best examples of this literature struggle to avoid the strange assumption of a world which begins divided into discrete units and is eventually unified through a single and monolithic process. Notwithstanding the deployment of certain terminological monstrosities (cf. “the glocal”), it has often seemed to me that there is little that scholars of globalization can do to counter this narrative.

And yet, when I sat down to write a book about the anthropology of inequality, I found myself drawn once and again towards the concept of globalization. Sit down to write about how inequality functions in any particular locale or among any particular group of people, and you will quickly find yourself making connections to other locales and other groups of people. Inequality exists among webs of relations, and exploring this web all but requires you to expand your focus as wide as possible. In spite of myself, the endgame for an anthropological approach to inequality seemed clear: either address the issue of inequality from a global perspective, or don’t address it at all. The concepts of globalization and inequality, while individually incomplete, have seemed to me during the course of writing this book to have a strange affinity for one another.

Although a loose one, I think this lesson is important for the particular moment in which we live. Inequality has landed squarely on the front page, and demands to be spoken about with an altogether new urgency. And yet the inequality we talk about is often a curiously limited one, tending in particular to reify national borders. We ask ourselves about the inequalities between the bottom 99% of income-earning Americans and the top 1%, but we rarely consider how nearly all Americans are in the top 10% of global income-earners. A refugee crisis in Europe is framed in terms of the charity and beneficence which Europeans owe to non-Europeans, but it is altogether rare to hear consideration of the larger structures of global inequality which draw refugees in Europe’s direction to begin with.

The book I have written can be thought of as an attempt to place inequality in a necessary, if imperfect, global perspective. I emphasize not only the difficulties which anthropologists have had in thinking through global relationships, but also the many different forms that inequality might take in various contexts large and small. A key phrase from the sociologist Sylvia Walby might be inserted here, to the effect that there is no “primary form of inequality.” In each case—whether inequality takes the form of gender or racial discrimination, whether it involves access to the law, whether it involves measurable income, whether it be considered within borders or across them—my consistent concern is to consider how different forms of inequality are intersectional rather than hierarchical.

This latter insight is particularly important as I examine the forms of economic inequality which surround capitalism, which has both been crucial for the process of global integration and has offered a very specific logic of economic exploitation and inequality. Economic inequality matters now more than perhaps ever before, and students of anthropology should be aware of the precise ways in which capitalism encourages unequal division. From a properly anthropological perspective, however, what is frequently most interesting in any particular case is the way in which capitalist exploitation and accumulation intersect with other forms of inequality. Sometimes I examine these intersections on the local level—for example, by asking how local forms of economic inequality shape local responses to the rule of law. Sometimes I attempt to grapple with these intersections in a broader global context—by attempting to explain, for example, how certain genuinely global forms of patriarchy and racism have begun to emerge.

For me, what remains uniquely anthropological in all this is an insistent focus not just on the fact of inequality, but on the ways in which inequality is realized. Several years ago, the World Bank economist Branko Milanovic made the observation that there have been “two winners” of economic globalization since 1990—the global elite and the emerging working class in China. During this period, the world’s wealthiest people have seen their already substantial incomes grow by up to 60%. However, the middle of the global income distribution has matched this rate of growth over the same period, an economic trend which can be attributed overwhelmingly to the movement of poor peasants from rural villages to China’s new industrial cities. Although still extremely poor, this new factory proletariat has substantially increased its economic earnings. What ethnography tells us is how this historical transformation has involved new categories of social evaluation (such as the use of suzhi, or “quality,” in descriptions of migrant women), new forms of protest (such as the wildcat strikes in China’s “sunbelt”), and new social structures (such as those achieved through the continuing application of residency restrictions to urban labor migrants).

Ultimately, of course, there are no silver bullets for the anthropologist of inequality. There is no one theory of what inequality is and why it persists, and we must be willing to move back and forth between insights generated by economists, ethnographers, and everyone in between. If nothing else, I hope that my book will help students to think about the world’s many different forms of inequality from an integrated perspective. It is consideration of this kind that the present moment demands.

Kenneth McGill is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Southern Connecticut State University.

Consuming Ironies

Last Thursday, February 24th, in the Hart House Library on the University of Toronto campus, 100 students, academics, and activists gathered to celebrate the launch of Trevor Norris’s new book Consuming Schools: Commercialism and the End of Politics.

Gavin Fridell, the evening’s moderator and author of Fair Trade Coffee, started off the talk with a summary of the book, describing it as a “rigorous, timely book,” due to recent funding cuts and the resultant and ongoing privatization and commercialization of education.

Reading from his book’s introduction, Trevor Norris took the stage next with an overview of the shift from a worker to consumer society in the 20th century and the indicators of a consumer society, which is a difficult subject to tackle as the language of consumption prevents itself from being critiqued, according to Norris.

The evening progressed to an interview with Gavin Fridell and Trevor Norris, with Fridell playing devil’s advocate. A lively discussion about the new democratic family that emerges in the face of consumerism, the irony of consuming books on consumerism, and the politics of the left-wing in relation to consumerism, ensued.

With the conclusion of the interview, the floor was opened up to questions from the audience, which prompted discussions about the complex relationship between consumerism and innovation in the marketplace, the economic climate of China, and standard of living.

An evening of consumerism, consumers, and consumption, Trevor Norris provided the captive audience at Hart House with a great deal of food for thought on the status of our schools and society.