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Mexican and Canadian diplomats in a changing, challenging China

This week on the Sinica Podcast, Kaiser and Jeremy chat with two former ambassadors to the PRC who served during the years marking the transition from the Hu/Wen administration to the rule of Xi Jinping: Jorge Guajardo of Mexico and David Mulroney of Canada. They discuss the significant challenges that they faced, the perceptible changes in China’s diplomatic norms and practices during their tenures as ambassadors, and, finally, the benefits and drawbacks that their countries see from the Trump administration’s more assertive posture toward China.

Note: This show was recorded on December 20, 2018, five weeks before Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sacked Canada’s latest ambassador to China.

What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:

9:35: Ambassadors Guajardo and Mulroney speak about their experiences during their tenures in Beijing. Mulroney describes a change he noticed during his time as head of the Asia branch of Canada’s Foreign Ministry: “Dealing with the Chinese had become different. In the past, if there was a difficult decision or a tough negotiation, even if you came out on the short end, the Chinese would leave you something… That changed, and I saw it change on my visit as ambassador, where it was zero sum where they were going to walk away and leave you with nothing.”

25:26: Jeremy asks the two diplomats about the United States pressuring other countries to join the growing coalition that is pushing back against China on trade, and domestic discussions in their respective countries. Mulroney responds: “There’s a great fear of being seen to gang up on China, or to form a coalition against China. And that has, I think, precluded the possibility of really honest discussions of how we deal with China one on one. China has been remarkably successful in isolating countries, even big countries, like Britain and France. Canada has certainly felt that…”

29:47: Guajardo comments on changes in the U.S.-Mexico relationship and the effects this has on the relationship between the U.S. and China: “During all administrations prior to President Trump’s, there was sort of an unwritten rule with Mexico that Mexico would do all that was possible to block Huawei from building its telecommunications infrastructure. That changed with President Trump.”

37:45: How far should governments go in getting tough on China? Is there a red line, and if so, where is it? Mulroney explains: “Canada right now is dealing with the detention of a couple of Canadians, and an icy-cold relationship with China…a constellation of issues, Iran sanctions, the extradition treaty with the U.S., detention of citizens, but they all have something in common at the base…the suggestion that China has been a free rider in so many respects. We’ve come to this point before. We wring our hands and then China is given a pass. The one thing that President Trump has been getting right is that maybe we don’t give China a pass.”

Recommendations:

Jeremy: An essay by James Meek in the London Review of Books, “The Club and the Mob,” about the destruction of news media.

Jorge: Travel to Mexico City! An affordable vacation spot with many direct flights, which will be fairly empty during the upcoming Easter holidays.

David: The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, by none other than Dorothy Day.

Kaiser: The comedy TV series Patriot, available on Amazon Prime Video.

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Kaiser Kuo

Kaiser Kuo is co-founder of the Sinica Podcast and editor-at-large of SupChina.