Canada–China relations

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



Official Canada–China relations date to 1942, when Canada sent its own ambassador to China. Before then, Canada had been represented in China by the British ambassador. The Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War caused a break in relations that lasted until 1970, when Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau recognized the People's Republic of China, becoming one of the first Western countries to recognize the PRC.

Canada has deep cultural links with China being home to a large Chinese diaspora. Relations have generally been stable since they were first established. 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, they are still thought to be below their potential.[2]


Embassy of Canada in China


Canadian relations with China were originally mediated through the British ambassador, who represented the interests of the entire British Empire in China. A growing Canadian national identity and Canadian participation in World War II made it desirable to establish separate diplomatic representation for Canada in China. In 1942, Canada posted its first ambassador in the Chinese wartime capital of Chongqing. The embassy was then moved to the permanent capital of Nanjing in 1946.

Canada–China relations faced a quandary after the Communists won the Chinese Civil War. The United Kingdom followed its longstanding policy of extending diplomatic recognition to a newly established government, while the United States refused to recognize the Communist government. Canada had close ties to both Britain and the United States, and the Canadian government was split on the issue. After the Liberal victory in the Canadian federal election of 1949 and more discussion within the Canadian government, Canada chose the British approach. The Canadian embassy in Nanjing was kept open, and Canada posted a chargé d'affaires to maintain relations with China. 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.[3]

However, the Korean War began two days later, on June 25, 1950. With Canadian troops fighting on the opposing side from 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.[3]

Diplomatic opening and early trade[edit]

In 1961, Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker passed legislation that would open up the Chinese market for Canadian farmers.[4] In 1968, the government of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau initiated negotiations with the People's Republic of China that lead 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 Pepin 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.[5]

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.

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]

Chill and thaw[edit]

Under the new Conservative administration of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, China-Canada relations began to deteriorate as Harper and his party took a harsh view of China. Harper has bluntly stated his belief in Canadian values such as human rights should not be trumped by the "almighty dollar". Ottawa then offended Beijing with a series of moves, including awarding honorary Canadian citizenship to the Dalai Lama, criticizing China's human rights record, accusing it of commercial espionage, delaying a meeting between foreign ministers, and making overtures toward Taiwan.[citation needed] Harper did not attend the opening ceremonies of Beijing Olympics. At the APEC Summit in November 2006, China appeared to initially backed out of meeting between Harper and the Chinese president in a move seen as a snub. Hu in the end chose to have a brief pull-aside meeting with Harper.

In 2005 Charles Burton, an associate professor at Brock University and a "scholar-diplomat", wrote a report and conducted media interviews that affected Canada's approach to relations with the People's Republic of China.[6] Burton's report commissioned by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs entitled Assessment of the Canada-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue[7] was released in an unclassified public version in April, 2006. As revealed by U.S. diplomatic cables from the cache obtained by WikiLeaks the "Burton Report" considerably affected Western policy approaches to engagement with China on human rights[8] and China's engagement with the West on human rights.[9]

Amid the current global recession and falling trade with the United States, Harper government began to mend relations with China whose economic growth remains robust. Trade Minister Stockwell Day, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, and Transportation Minister John Baird visited China in 2009. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made a well-received visit 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 has elapsed without a visit to China by a Canadian Prime Minister. After the meetings, Hu Jintao, Wen and Harper decided to mend ties and rebuild stronger ties. Chinese President Hu Jintao paid an official state visit to Canada from June 23 to 27, 2010, ahead of the G20 summit in Toronto.[10] Governor General of Canada Michaëlle Jean visited 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.[11][12][13][14] Former Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also paid a working visit to Beijing and Shanghai from July 3 to 8, 2010.[15]

During Prime Minister Harper's February 2012 visit to China, the Canadian media made repeated observations 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,[16] 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.[17]


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.[18]

According to a recent study by the Fraser Institute (see reference), China replaced Japan as Canada's third-largest export market in 2007, with CA$9.3 billion flowing into China in 2007. 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.

Between 1998 and 2007, imports from China grew by almost 400 percent [18]

Leading commodities in the trade between Canada and China include chemicals, metals, industrial and agricultural machinery and equipment, wood products, and fish products.[19]

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.[20]

Canada’s Merchandise Trade with China 2015[21]

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


Main article: Chinese Canadian

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.

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. ^ a b Hilliker, John; Barry, Donald (1995). Canada's Department of External Affairs. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. 55–56. ISBN 9780773507388. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Canada - China Diplomatic Relations
  6. ^ "Rights dialogue in China blasted as futile – Geoffrey York":
  7. ^ Assessment of the Canada-China Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue
  9. ^ Campbell Clark. "China turns chilly on human rights dialogue" published in the Globe and Mail on January 6, 2010:
  10. ^ China's President Hu Jintao heads to Ottawa for official state visit
  11. ^ 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 
  12. ^ Stephen Harper sends GG Michaëlle Jean to China during Queen’s visit
  13. ^ Governor General to visit China
  14. ^ Itinerary for Visit to China
  15. ^ Itinerary for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s visit to China announced
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b Tiagi, Raaj; Zhou, Lu (February 2009), Canada's Economic Relations with China. Studies in Chinese Economic Policy (PDF), The Fraser Institute 
  19. ^ "China becomes Canada's 2nd-largest trade partner". 2007-12-15. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  20. ^ "China Goes Global, 2009 | Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada". 2009-09-14. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  21. ^

External links[edit]