A Month of Public Diplomacy
There may come a day when observers look back and note November 2006 might have been a defining time for this Tory government.
At last, finally, over the past three weeks or so, a foreign policy has begun to take shape. Several developments occurred, and taken together they bring up three very important questions. First, has Canada, after nearly a year of Harper administration and just over two years of Paul Martin dithering, finally come up with an actual foreign policy plan? Second, is this agenda, if in fact there is one, nothing more than public rhetoric with little or no substance to back it up? And finally, will Ottawa’s commitments in Afghanistan in any way constrain, limit, or impact any initiatives that seem to be surfacing?
There’s the case of North Korea. Around the middle of the month Marius Grinius, Ambassador to Seoul, travelled to Pyongyang with the very specific mission of trying to help pressure the North into walking away from its nuclear arms program and returning to talks with the international community. David Mulroney, a Harper advisor on foreign affairs, summed up Ottawa’s aim: “We've dispatched our ambassador to Pyongyang…to deliver a strong message to North Koreans to ask them to cease, to give up their weapons and return to the six-party talks” [for the reference to Mulroney’s statement and details of the story see Jennifer Ditchburn’s ‘Canadian Ambassador in North Korea to Press Anti-nuke Message’, CP, 18 November 2006. Story posted at http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2006/11/18/2404943-cp.html
]. But just how much of Canada’s initiative was merely reaction to Washington pressure? At the time Grinius’ trip North made headlines, news broke that American officials were interested in having Canadian ships, in having “the Canadian Navy's help patrolling the high seas and searching cargo vessels for illicit nuclear material going to or from North Korea.” While Ottawa could agree North Korea needed to back down from its nuclear program, officials were “not yet ready to announce details of any deployment of ships” [cited in Jeff Sallot’s ‘U.S. Asks Canada to Help Restrain N. Korea,’ The Globe and Mail
, 18 November 2006. Story posted at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20061117.NUKES17/TPStory/TPInternational/America/
And then there are dealings with Beijing. Over a week ago Foreign Minister Peter MacKay assured Canadians relations with the Middle Kingdom were not “deteriorating.” In fact, he said: “We have good relations with China. We value that country as we do other countries. They are a major power when it comes to the economic relations that we deal with…Of course we're, at the same time ... duty-bound, I would suggest, to raise issues of concern, whether they be human rights issues, whether they be consular cases” [Cited in ‘Relations with China Aren’t Deteriorating: MacKay,’ CTV News, 19 November 2006. Story posted at http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20061118/korean_visit_061119/20061119?hub=TopStories
…It was at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Vietnam that strains in the relationship appeared. On 19 November 2006 PM Harper finally met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, for a pull-aside. Indications were that a dialogue between Harper and Hu was to have taken place days earlier, but Beijing balked, reportedly taking issue with the Canadian side intending to raise the topic of human rights. And when the meeting finally did take place, it lasted about fifteen minutes. Harper used the occasion to discuss the case of Huseyincan Celil, a Canadian citizen originally from China imprisoned by Beijing on suspicion of having ties to Muslim radicals in Xinjiang province. Was the exchange a friendly one? According to Harper, he had “a very frank discussion with President Hu of China, [and] a distinct impression, if I may say that, that the Chinese aren't used to that from a Canadian government, but I can’t speak for them…The fact of the matter is that neglecting human rights has not opened a lot of doors either. Obviously we don't think you get anywhere by short changing your values” [Harper cited in Wikinews
, 20 November 2006. Story posted at http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Stephen_Harper_meets_with_Chinese_President_Hu_Jintao_during_APEC_summit
And next came input from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. On 23 November 2006 he made public an economic plan that included the observation that “there may be rare occasions when a particular foreign investment might damage Canada's long-term interests.” Some observers state this is aimed directly at China. According to at least one report, some “analysts say the Conservatives are especially worried about China gaining too much of a foothold in Alberta, where at least two Chinese companies already hold small stakes in oil sands interests” [Cited in ‘Tories Consider Blocking Some Foreign Investment,’ CTV News, 25 November 2006. Story posted at http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20061125/foreign_investors_061125/20061125?hub=Canada
And finally there’s the case of Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, who recently showed what other Tories, perhaps even Stephen Harper, may have to learn. Before attending November’s UN Climate Conference, Ambrose’s running commentaries about what would constitute action for the Environment portfolio consisted of savaging ongoing initiatives and blaming the previous Liberal administration for anything that was wrong with the environment. As public diplomacy, the strategy proved an utter failure. For instance, Ambrose had major problems with the Kyoto Accord, dismissing it as unworthy at worst or unworkable at best. She had particular issues with Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism or CDM “under which industrial countries can earn emissions credits by financing clean technology projects in developing countries,” insisting CDM “is little more than a recipe for corruption and wasted money.” But Ambrose’s problem and undoing was that almost nobody else in the world agreed, and what might be said to a target audience in Canada for domestic consumption amounted to diplomatic suicide once peddled in an international forum. Over the past months Europe, continuing to cite Canada as among the worst polluters, intensified criticism following several of Ambrose’s November performances.
So is there any hope that Ambrose and the rest of the Tory Caucus will respond with concrete actions? Is a policy change in the offing? Well, that’s unlikely. But what is certain is that rhetoric has changed as a result of Ambrose having learned lessons about public diplomacy. By late mid-month, she “indicated strong interest in the European Union's experiment in international emissions trading, a program which she has in the past described as a failure. Her officials say there are plans for a Canada-EU workshop on the topic as early as next month.” She also said Canada may come to rely on CDM, and while not necessarily embracing Kyoto did remark she was studying it and “learning” [All citations in this paragraph and the paragraph immediately preceding taken from ‘Ambrose Drops Hints that Canada’s Position on Kyoto may Be Changing,’ CP, 20 November 2006. Story posted at http://www.mytelus.com/news/article.do?pageID=news_home&articleID=2457194
Lessons? Paul Martin found out, the hard way, that a bilateral relationship with a neighbour, once mismanaged and neglected, could contribute to ending one’s career. All signs are that Stephen Harper has learned from his predecessor’s mistakes. And does November show the current PM’s aim is to expose the world to an aggressive Canadian diplomacy? If so, he will first learn that events outside Ottawa and far away from Cabinet meetings may be well beyond his ability to even influence. Current developments suggest the world is about to become far more complicated. At least three potentially major conflicts are threatening to break out across the Middle East. A proxy war may be unfolding in and around Somalia. Media are only starting to report the obvious, —that a civil war, perhaps a year old already, is destabilizing Iraq. And then there’s Afghanistan. So if the Tories manage to stay in power, will they come to learn and even respect the limitations of middle power diplomacy?
Posted by Stan Markotich
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