The Canadian Governor General, David Johnston, completed a week-long state visit to China recently. Johnston arrived in Beijing on October 18th and visited several major Chinese cities including Shanghai, Nanjing, and Chengdu. He also meets with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang along the way. The visit, which aimed to strengthen economic and cultural ties in the Sino-Canadian relationship, speaks to the federal government’s ongoing commitment to enhancing Canadian ties to the Pacific region.
An important goal of the Governor General’s visit was to promote and encourage ongoing Chinese investment in Canada. China has already become Canada’s second largest trading partner, in that Canada supplies many of the natural resources required to fuel China’s extraordinary economic growth. Indeed, the total volume of China’s crude oil imports is predicted to exceed that of the US and become the world’s largest by the end of 2014.
In spite of these trends, Chinese investment in the Canadian oil and gas has been in steep decline throughout 2013, from 27 billion dollars in 2012 to 2 billion dollars in 2013 while mergers and acquisitions in the industry diminished from 66 billion dollars to 8 billion dollars within the same time span. Much of this is explained by the Canadian government’s protectionism with respect to Canadian oil and gas reserves. In fact, the Canadian Parliament recently passed a bill that bans state-owned corporations from accessing these deposits. However, given the government’s ongoing support for the Northern Gateway pipeline, designed to provide Canadian energy to Asian markets, Canadian officials are concerned with the possibility that Chinese investment in Canada is on a permanent decline.
According to media coverage from the China Daily, an important item of discussion between Premier Li Keqiang and David Johnston last month was the possibility of a bilateral investment treaty. Johnston’s Keynote Address at the Canadian Chinese Business Council’s (CCBC) Annual General Meeting and Policy Conference on October 18th acknowledged the progress Canada and China have made in the enhancement of bilateral ties. Johnston encouraged new partnerships in environmentally sustainable enterprises and addressed the benefits of sharing information and innovations.
Johnston’s speech at the CCBC also touched on Canada’s cultural ties to China. According to the 2011 census, more than one million Canadians speak a Chinese language or dialect. Furthermore, given that there are over 84 000 Chinese students enrolled in Canadians educational institutions, China has become Canada’s greatest source of foreign students. Building a stronger educational relationship is therefore a component of Mr. Johnston’s plan to improve Sino-Canadian ties. In particular, Johnston wants to increase the number of Chinese students in Canada to 100 000 by the end of 2017. Visits to schools such as Nanjing University, Jiao Tong University, and Sun Yat-sen by Mr. Johnston reflect this objective. At these universities, he delivered speeches and participated in panel discussion with students and faculty.
In particular, Mr. Johnston spoke to the numerous partnership agreements that exist today between Canadian and Chinese universities. On October 18th, the Governor General attended the signing of an agreement between a Canadian institution and two Chinese universities that will create complementary programs in law and business. A similar agreement was signed on October 19th between the medical faculties of Jiao Tong University and the University of Ottawa. At Sichuan University, Johnston participated in a meeting where representatives of other universities in Southwest China met to discuss Canada’s relationship to educational institutions in the area.
Although David Johnston’s role as the Governor General is for the most part symbolic, he has undeniably played a role in improving Sino-Canadian ties. Given that Johnston’s visit came at the request of Prime Minister Harper, it is clear that this bilateral relationship remains incredibly important to his administration, and with good reason. China and Canada are quickly becoming more economically dependent. As Johnston states in his CCBC address, “There is no doubt that [this] bilateral relationship is multifaceted and maturing on a number of fronts.”