SHANGHAI Daily news trumped history at the crucial moment inOctober 1970 when Canada established diplomatic relations withChina. The night before external affairs minister Mitchell Sharp rose inthe House of Commons to announce the country’s newest embassy wouldopen in Peking, troops flooded into the nation’s capital to guardthe Parliament, the politicians and the embassies. The OctoberCrisis was in full flight and while the agreement between Canadaand China to exchange ambassadors has since been deemed “aforeign policy coup,” it certainly didn’t get the attention itdeserved that autumn day. Forever the master of understatement, Sharp remarked 25 yearslater: “Seldom is Canada in a position to give internationalleadership. This time we did so.” It was Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s policy push in 1968 that led Canadato pursue recognition of the People’s Republic of China.
“Itis a fact that there is a very large and populous country which isgoverned (from) Peking,” Trudeau wrote. “To recognizethat government does not mean that we approve of what it isdoing.” His decision meant riling Washington, something Trudeau seemed toenjoy, and renouncing Taiwan, an unavoidable consequence no matterhow deeply regretted. The new prime minister’s big idea met little resistance either inthe corridors of External Affairs, as the Department of ForeignAffairs was called at the time, or on the streets of Canada. Since the late 1950s, Canada had been selling surplus wheat toChina and in 1961 granted Chairman Mao Zedong’s calamitousgovernment generous credit in exchange for long-term contracts.Overnight, China became Canada’s ninth largest trading partner. At External Affairs, the debate over recognition was led by a groupof foreign service officers, sons and daughters of Christianmissionaries, “China Mishkids,” who were born andschooled in China and spoke fluent Mandarin.
What opposition Trudeau encountered came from within the Chinesecommunity in Canada, where there was real fear of Mao’s brand ofcommunism and from Red-under-every-bed Cold Warriors. On Trudeau’s initiative, negotiations with China began soon afterthe New Year in 1969 in Stockholm. Only 50 countries officially recognized China and Gong Yan,director of the Canadian Studies Centre at Beijing Foreign StudiesUniversity, explained that China was “looking for abreakthrough. “At that time the United States obviously was putting a lot ofpressure on its allies not to establish diplomatic relations withChina,” she said. Sticky Silicone Roller
She easily listed the reasons why Peking was intrigued by Ottawa’sinterest: The wheat deals, a pre-disposition to respect Canadiansbecause of Dr. Norman Bethune’s celebrity in China, and a chance tocrack U.S. opposition to China. In his memoirs, Huang Hua, China’s first ambassador to Canada,discussed the influence Canada had in the world at the time andsaid it “played a positive role in promoting the establishmentof diplomatic relations between the overwhelming majority ofWestern countries and China, thus ushering in the third tide ofChina’s establishment of diplomatic relations with foreigncountries.” Former Liberal senator Jack Austin was deputy minister of Energy,Mines and Resources in 1969 when talks with China began, and he saton a small committee that was briefed regularly on the negotiationsand advised the cabinet and the prime minister on their progress.His reading of why China was interested in courting Canada is notso different from Huang’s, but comes from another angle. China Clean Room Wipers
China wasin the throes of the chaotic Cultural Revolution and “for itsown reasons” wanted to test the waters to see what receptionit would get if it opened its doors to the world, Austin said.”China recognized that it needed a symbol, a formal acceptancein the global community by a developed country and Canada was byfar the best candidate to make that test.” The “on-off, up-down” negotiations, as Austin describedthem, lasted 21 months and did not run particularly smoothly. Thesticking point was Taiwan, but it wasn’t the only problem. In a paper published in the London Journal of Canadian Studies2002/2003 when he was Canada’s ambassador to the European Union,Jeremy Kinsman wrote about his cameo role in the historic talks. “I was sent in the summer of 1969 from Brussels as an extrabody for our tiny resident diplomatic mission in Stockholm,specifically to help determine who was trying to subvert ournegotiations, from circulating false Canadian reporting telegramsthat denigrated the Chinese, to professionally beating up aCanadian diplomatic-passport holder. Disposable Face masks
. . who had just landed fromOttawa. Was it the Taiwanese, the Russians, the Japanese, or evenAmericans? The answer remains a mystery.” The breakthrough in negotiations came with the so-called”Canadian formula” on Taiwan.
It looks simple, but wassuch a perfectly nuanced phrase that some 30 countries used itafterwards to cement their own agreements with China. The magic words were “takes note of,” as in: “TheChinese government reaffirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part ofthe territory of the People’s Republic of China. The Canadiangovernment takes note of this position of the Chinesegovernment.” For Peking, according to Gong, the Canadian formula was”definitely not the best choice in China’s interests,”but it was, evidently, the best available. With the deal done and just a day before Sharp was due to stand inthe Commons to announce the terms, Taiwanese ambassador to Canada,Hsueh Yu-chi, pre-empted the news, broke off diplomatic relationswith Canada and tearfully left Ottawa. It was high diplomaticdrama, somewhat lost on a country consumed by the October Crisis.
China and Canada were both anxious to put their words into actionand, by April 1971, Ralph Collins became the first in the series ofExternal’s “China Mishkids,” to take up the post asCanadian ambassador in Peking. Close on his heels came the first Canadian trade mission, ready toexplore the commercial benefits of Trudeau’s bold move. ThenIndustry, Trade and Commerce minister Jean-Luc Pepin arrived in theChinese capital in June with officials from key governmentdepartments, including Jack Austin from Energy, Mines andResources. “We stayed at the Beijing Hotel.
We were the only foreignersand pretty well the only people in the hotel,” Austin saidfrom Vancouver. On the streets, “people were on bicycles everywhere, in bluesuits. At any distance they were almost indistinguishable as togender.” “Beijing now is a different planet,” he marvelled. Premier Zhou Enlai was their host and Austin remembers howimpressed the Canadians were that after years of isolation, howknowledgeable Zhou was about world affairs. “He was as well-briefed I would say as any leader in anycountry on political, economic and global affairs.” Huang Hua, the distinguished diplomat whose appointment asambassador was seen as proof of how highly the Chinese valued thenew relationship, was slated to arrive in Ottawa concurrently withCollins’ arrival in Peking, but events intervened.
“One day in April premier Zhou informed me that Chairman Maohad appointed the premier, Marshal Ye Jianying and me to form athree-member team for the work of receiving (U.S. secretary ofstate) Dr. Henry Kissinger who was coming on a secret visit toChina,” Huang wrote in his memoirs. Excuses were made and it was July before Huang arrived in Ottawafor a stay that lasted just one year. There was nothing in the agreement Canada and China signed on Oct.13, 1970, that committed Ottawa to lobby in support of Peking’s bidto be seated at the United Nations in place of Taiwan.
But aftertwo years of hard bargaining, Austin says he believes there emergedan unwritten “postscript” to the accord “Canada’sundertaking to lead the process at the UN of winning the seat forChina.” Gong Yan claims no knowledge of a back deal, butsaid, “Canadadid play a part.” “China wasn’t actually expecting to be accepted by the UN backin 1971. It came as a surprise because at that time the UnitedStates was lobbying very strongly against it because of the Taiwanissue,” she said. Where Canada helped, Gong said, was “with taking the lead, andwith the Canadian formula,” which broke the recognition logjamand allowed other countries to quickly follow suit. In October 1971, after 21 previous attempts, the People’s Republicof China took up the “China seat” at the UN on a vote of76 to 35 with 17 abstentions and resumed its membership in theSecurity Council. China formally returned to the world community.