OTTAWA — Canada is giving China the cold shoulder over its interest in joining an 11-country Pacific Rim trading bloc that is viewed as an important gateway to diversifying Canadian trade with other Asian countries.
A spokesman for International Trade Minister Mary Ng says Canada is aware of China's desire to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership but has yet to have any discussion with the People's Republic about that.
"We are aware of China's interest," said Ng spokesman Chris Zhou in an emailed response to questions.
"All decisions are made by consensus, and any country that joins CPTPP must meet and comply with the high standard rules and ambitious market access commitments of the CPTPP."
Canada's language on China's potential ascension to the pact mirrors the stance taken by Japan's new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, after he was sworn into power on Monday.
Trade analysts say Canada should vocally oppose China's entry to the trade pact that also includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
They say the safe return to Canada of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor gives the federal government more leeway to vocally oppose China joining the pact. The two Canadian men were arrested in apparent retaliation for the December 2018 arrest of Chinese high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou on an American extradition warrant.
Meng returned to China last month, just hours after the U.S. withdrew its extradition request and a British Columbia court ended the legal proceedings against her. That paved the way for the immediate release of Kovrig and Spavor who were flown back to Canada at the exact time of Meng's departure.
"Canada has no reason to do any favours for China. Their appalling behaviour toward Canada these past two years, including the bellicose and belligerent criticisms about Canada … provides every justification for a cool, if not frigid, Canadian response to China's CPTPP application," said Lawrence Herman, an international trade lawyer and a former Canadian diplomat.
Canada may be much smaller than China, but its membership in the larger CPTPP allows it to use its "leverage and influence" to counter "China's aggressiveness," said Herman.
Meredith Lilly, the Simon Reisman Chair in trade policy at Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, said Canada does not necessarily need to support or reject China's candidacy because the trade deal already has firm rules around the criteria for new members.
"China currently doesn't meet the standards or ambition defined by the accession process to join CPTPP, and China would need to undertake a series of reforms to be taken seriously in areas such as state-owned enterprises, domestic subsidies, labour and human rights and procurement," said Lilly.
"I believe it would be a mistake for CPTPP members to water down the agreement to accommodate any new member."
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said China has not lived up to the commitments it made two decades ago when it joined the World Trade Organization.
"Knowing how difficult it remains for foreign companies to operate in China compared to Chinese companies that want to operate over here," said Saint-Jacques, "we have to base our approach a lot more on reciprocity."
China submitted its application to join the CPTPP in mid-September and Taiwan followed suit with its own application a week later. The move has angered China, which opposes Taiwan's involvement in all international arenas because it views the island as a breakaway province.
China has stepped up its military intimidation of Taiwan in recent days, flying more than 50 fighter planes towards the island on Monday.
Saint-Jacques and Lilly said Canada should endorse Taiwan as a CPTPP member.
"Of course, China will go berserk, but you know, China is not ready," said Saint-Jacques.
"Once named, Canada's next trade minister should publicly acknowledge Taiwan's application, sending an early signal that Canada will give Taiwan's application full attention," said Lilly.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also affirmed Canada's solidarity with its two largest CPTPP partners in recent days.
He spoke on the phone Monday with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison. "The two leaders discussed the close cooperation between Canada and Australia in strengthening global trade and upholding human rights as well as the rules-based international order," said a readout from Trudeau's office released on Tuesday.
And on Monday, his office issued a statement congratulating Kishida.
"Our extensive trade and investment ties, underpinned by the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, greatly contribute to our economic security," Trudeau said.
"Together, we will advance our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific and take ambitious action in the fight against climate change."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2021.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press