Canada–China relations

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Canada–China relations
Map indicating locations of Canada and People's Republic of China


Diplomatic Mission
Canadian Embassy, Beijing Chinese Embassy, Ottawa, Ontario
Ambassador John McCallum Ambassador Lu Shaye
Embassy of Canada in China

Canada–China relations, or Sino-Canadian relations officially dates back to 1942, when Canada sent an ambassador to China. Before then, Canada had been represented by the British ambassador. The Communist victory (1949) in the Chinese Civil War caused a break in relations that lasted until 1970, when Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau became one of the first Western leaders to recognize the People's Republic of China. Canada is home to a large Chinese diaspora, which affects diplomatic and other dimensions. China is currently Canada's second largest trading partner and Canada is China's 13th largest.[1] Although trade has grown fast during the 2000s, economists view the extent of commerce between the two countries as below potential.[2]

According to the Spring 2017 Global Attitudes Survey of Pew research center, 48% of Canadians have a favorable view on China, while 40% have a negative view. In addition, 42% of Canadians see China as the top economic power, while 32% still regard the United States as the top economic power.[3]



As part of the British empire, and later Commonwealth, Canada did not establish a foreign ministry (External Affairs) until 1909 and only developed an independent foreign policy and established embassies overseas in the 1940s. In 1942, Canada posted its first ambassador in the Chinese wartime Nationalist capital of Chongqing. The embassy was moved to Nanjing in 1946.

Canada faced a dilemma following the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949. On many issues, Canada followed the lead of British and the US, but the two governments followed different policies on China. The United Kingdom, under the control of a Socialist government itself, extended diplomatic recognition to the Communist Chinese, while the United States refused to recognize the Communist government. After the Liberal victory in the Canadian federal election of 1949 and more discussion, Canada followed the British approach. The Canadian embassy in Nanjing was kept open, and Canada posted a chargé d'affaires. By June 23, 1950, the Canadian Department of External Affairs had prepared instructions for the chargé to open negotiations with the Chinese government for an exchange of ambassadors.[4]

However, the Korean War began two days later, on June 25, 1950. With Canadian troops fighting with the United Nations forces, opposing Chinese troops, the continuation of diplomatic relations became untenable. After Canada voted in favor of a UN Resolution that branded China an aggressor, the Chinese government asked the Canadian chargé to leave. The Canadian embassy in Nanjing was closed on February 26, 1951. Thereafter, Canada maintained diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, whose government had evacuated to Taiwan after losing to the Communists. However, Canada did not send an ambassador to the Nationalist Chinese capital of Taipei. Instead, relations were maintained through the Nationalist Chinese ambassador in Ottawa.[4]

Diplomatic opening and early trade[edit]

In 1961, the government of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker passed legislation to open up the Chinese market for Canadian farmers, despite the absence of diplomatic relations.[5] In 1968, the government of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau initiated negotiations with the People's Republic of China that led to the establishment of diplomatic relations on October 13, 1970. Canada and China established resident diplomatic missions in 1971. By 1971, the countries exchanged ambassadors, and Canadian Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce Jean-Luc Pépin visited China. In 1972, Canadian Foreign Minister Mitchell Sharp led a Canadian trade delegation to China and met with Premier Zhou Enlai. Sharp also travelled to Shijiazhuang where he recognized the significant contribution to Canada–China relations of Norman Bethune.[6]

In 1973, Pierre Trudeau became the first Canadian Prime Minister to pay an official visit to the PRC, and in 1984 Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang visited Canada, becoming the first Communist leader to address Parliament. Governor General of Canada Jeanne Sauvé also conducted a state visit to China during her tenure. In 1985 as part of a growing concern for relations with China and Japan the Canadian Parliament passed an Act to create the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, a think-tank focusing on Canada-Asia relations.

In 1976, Trudeau refused to permit Taiwan to participate in the Olympic games held that year in Montreal unless they were willing to give up the name "Republic of China," which they refused to do.[7] Canada thereby became the first host country to breach its obligation to admit all teams recognized by the International Olympic Committee.[7]

By 1990, two-way trade exceeded C$3 billion, and in 1992, C$4.6 billion. In 1994 Canada established its four-pillar policy on China: economic partnership; sustainable development; human rights, good governance and the rule of law; and peace and security. That same year Prime Minister Jean Chrétien visited Beijing and Shanghai with Team Canada: two ministers, nine provincial premiers, the territorial leaders and the head of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Chrétien and Premier Li Peng signed a nuclear co-operation agreement and a letter of intent on six development projects in China. The following year Premier Li Peng visited Canada to commemorate the 25th anniversary of bilateral relations and attended Canada-China Business Council annual general meeting in Montreal.

Trade missions[edit]

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Minister of International Trade Art Eggleton and Secretary of State (Asia Pacific) Raymond Chan visited Shanghai again in 1996 to attend the annual general meeting of the Canada-China Business Council, and Chrétien, Minister of International Trade Sergio Marchi, and Secretary of State (Asia Pacific) Raymond Chan visited Beijing and Lanzhou returned once more in 1998. In 1999 Premier Zhu Rongji visited Canada.

In 2001 Team Canada visited Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. It was the largest trade mission in Canadian history to that point. Chrétien was accompanied by close to 600 business participants, eight provincial premiers, three territorial leaders, Minister for International Trade Pierre Pettigrew and Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) Rey Pagtakhan. In 2003 Premier Wen Jiabao visited Canada. President Hu Jintao visited Canada in 2005 and met with Prime Minister Paul Martin. The two leaders announced a "strategic partnership" and said they would double trade within five years. Martin said he had discussions about human rights with Hu.[citation needed]

The Harper Era[edit]

In 2006, following elections, Stephen Harper became Prime Minister of Canada, and implemented a more activist foreign policy, emphasising ties with democracies, and expressing criticism of non-democratic regimes, such as the case of China. Harper stated his belief in Canadian values such as human rights should not be trumped by the "almighty dollar".[citation needed] For example, the Harper government awarded an honorary Canadian citizenship to the Dalai Lama, and criticizing China's human rights record, accusing it of commercial espionage. Harper also delayed a planned meeting between the foreign ministers, and increased the level of Canadian involvement in Taiwan, further displeasing Beijing.[citation needed] At the APEC Summit in November 2006, China initially appeared to back out of formal meeting between Harper and President Hu, but Hu instead opted for a brief informal meeting with the Canadian PM. Harper notably did not attend the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

In 2005 Charles Burton, an associate professor at Brock University wrote a report and conducted media interviews on Canada's policy towards China.[8] Burton's report, commissioned by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, was entitled Assessment of the Canada-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue[9] and released in an unclassified public version in April, 2006. As revealed by U.S. diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, the "Burton Report" considerably affected Western policy approaches to engagement with China on human rights[10] and China's response.[11]

The global recession that began at the end of 2008 and the economic effect on Canada led the Harper government to reduce its criticism of China in order to repair relations with China, whose economic status remained robust. A number of high level official visits took place in this period. Trade Minister Stockwell Day, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, and Transportation Minister John Baird visited China in 2009. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made reciprocal trip to Canada in June. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty led a high-profile delegation to China to enhance economic and financial ties. Prime Minister Harper visited China for the first time from December 2–6, 2009, visiting Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Before a bilateral meeting with Harper in Beijing, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao suggested that too long a time had elapsed without a visit to China by a Canadian Prime Minister. After the meetings, Hu Jintao, Wen and Harper agreed to build stronger relations, particularly in the economic sphere. Chinese President Hu Jintao paid an official state visit to Canada from June 23 to 27, 2010, ahead of the G20 summit in Toronto.[12] Governor General of Canada Michaëlle Jean travelled to China from June 30 to July 5, 2010 on a "friendship visit", accepting an invitation from China to attend Canada's national day at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. She also visited Guangdong, Sichuan and Beijing.[13][14][15][16] Then Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also paid a working visit to Beijing and Shanghai from July 3 to 8, 2010.[17]

During Prime Minister Harper's February 2012 visit to China, some commentators in the Canadian media reported that the Chinese government was much more welcoming than in 2009. Harper met with both President Hu and Premier Wen, and signed a number of economic agreements including a uranium export treaty,[18] and a foreign investment treaty, which was linked by the media to (further) potential Chinese investment in the Athabasca oil sands, and which had been negotiated for eighteen years. Chinese officials suggested that the next logical step would be a free trade agreement, which Canadian officials promised to study.[19]

Justin Trudeau era[edit]

Justin Trudeau became the Prime Minister of Canada by elections, and the relationship between China and Canada had been improved. Trudeau paid an official visit to China from Aug 30 to Sept 7, 2016, days before the G20 meeting in Hangzhou. However, such visit failed to get a balanced relationship with China.[20]

David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada, paid an official visit to China from July 10 to July 14, 2017. The two countries pledged to enhance cooperation on education, research, innovation, culture, diversity, agriculture and tourism.[21]


Since 2003, China has emerged as Canada's second largest trading partner, passing Britain and Japan. China now accounts for approximately six percent of Canada's total world trade (imports and exports combined).[22] Between 1998 and 2007, imports from China grew by almost 400 percent [22]

According to a study by the Fraser Institute think tank, China replaced Japan as Canada's third-largest export market in 2007, with CA$9.3 billion flowing into China. Between 1998 and 2007, exports to China grew by 272 percent, but only represented about 1.1 percent of China's total imports. In 2007, Canadian imports of Chinese products totaled C$38.3 billion.

Leading commodities in the trade between Canada and China include chemicals, metals, industrial and agricultural machinery and equipment, wood products, and fish products.[23]

According to the China Goes Global survey conducted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, Canada is poised to accept more trade and investment from China as it is viewed by Chinese companies as being one of the most open countries to their investment.[24]

Canada’s Merchandise Trade with China 2015[25]

Canadian Imports from China Canadian Exports to China
Merchandise Classification % of total imports Merchandise Classification % of total exports
1 Electrical machinery and equipment 24.95 Woodpulp; paper or paperboard scraps 17.04
2 Boilers, mechanical appliances, etc. 18.75 Oil seeds and misc. fruit, grain, etc. 14.66
3 Furniture and stuffed furnishings 5.61 Wood and wood articles, charcoal 8.22
4 Toys, games, sports equipment 5.33 Ores, slag and ash 7.11
5 Knitted or crocheted apparel 3.88 Mineral fuels, oils 3.64
6 Iron or steel articles 3.84 Fertilizers 3.59
7 Woven clothing and apparel articles 3.71 Organic chemicals 3.42
8 Plastic and plastic articles 3.47 Fish, crustaceans, molluscs 3.23
9 Motor vehicles, trailers, bicycles, motorcycles 3.42 Cereals 3.21
10 Footwear 3.42 Boilers, mechanical appliances, etc. 3.12
% of Total from China 75.78 % of Total To China 67.25
Chinese Imports as % of Cdn Total 12.26 Chinese Exports as % of Cdn Total 4.11


In recent decades China has consistently become Canada's largest source of immigration every year. The numbers are even larger when people from Hong Kong are added. Chinese Canadians are now one of Canada's largest ethnic groups, after Europeans and First Nations population. They are set to overtake Koreans as the largest group of international students studying in Canada.

Extradition treaty[edit]

In the first year of his prime ministership, Justin Trudeau's government agreed to talks on a bilateral extradition treaty with China in 2016. At the same time, Canada negotiated the release after a two-year Chinese imprisonment on espionage charges of Canadian missionary Kevin Garratt; and also had a wrangle over Canadian canola (oil seed) exports to China. Charles Burton, presented as a critic of the government policy and former Canadian diplomat as the treaty talks were revealed, said in a New York Times account, “We don’t seem to have the linguistic and cultural expertise and political knowledge to defend our interests against a very sophisticated diplomatic engagement by China, which seems to always come out on top”.[26]


Canada and PRC have several schools twinned with each other:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schiller, Bill (June 18, 2010). "'New, historic starting point' for Canada, China". The Star. Toronto. 
  2. ^ Chen, Victor (January 2010), 'Benchmarking Canada-China Economic Relations (PDF), [Canada International Council] and [Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada] 
  3. ^ Wike, Richard (13 July 2017). "Views on China Full report" (PDF). Pew Research. 
  4. ^ a b Hilliker, John; Barry, Donald (1995). Canada's Department of External Affairs. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. 55–56. ISBN 9780773507388. 
  5. ^ Diefenbaker Biography 1895 - 1979,, 1994.
  6. ^ Canada - China Diplomatic Relations
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ York, Geoffrey, "Rights dialogue in China blasted as futile",, June 2006.
  9. ^ Assessment of the Canada-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue.
  10. ^ "Human Rights: China's dialogue partners have mixed views on exchanges" Archived January 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.,, July 26, 2006.
  11. ^ Clark, Campbell,"China turns chilly on human rights dialogue", Globe and Mail, January 6, 2010.
  12. ^ China's President Hu Jintao heads to Ottawa for official state visit
  13. ^ Galloway, Gloria (7 June 2010), "Jean to squeeze in trip to China between royal tour hello and goodbye", The Globe and Mail, retrieved 7 June 2010 
  14. ^ Stephen Harper sends GG Michaëlle Jean to China during Queen’s visit
  15. ^ Governor General to visit China Archived March 6, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ Itinerary for Visit to China
  17. ^ Itinerary for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s visit to China announced Archived June 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-04-04. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-02-11. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  20. ^ VANDERKLIPPE, NATHAN (2016-09-04). "Trudeau's visit to China fails to shift power imbalance". Retrieved 2017-07-20. 
  21. ^ General, The Office of the Secretary to the Governor. "The Governor General of Canada". Retrieved 2017-07-20. 
  22. ^ a b Tiagi, Raaj; Zhou, Lu (February 2009), Canada's Economic Relations with China. Studies in Chinese Economic Policy (PDF), The Fraser Institute, archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-06 
  23. ^ "China becomes Canada's 2nd-largest trade partner". 2007-12-15. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  24. ^ "China Goes Global, 2009 | Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada". 2009-09-14. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  25. ^ "Canada's Merchandise Trade with China", Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, February 25, 2016.
  26. ^ Levin, Dan, "Canada Agrees to Talks on Extradition Treaty With China", The New York Times, September 20, 2016. Retrieved 2016-09-21.

External links[edit]