Mark Collins – Dead People and Canadian Policy: The Saudis’ Sword and the Dragon’s Bullets

Then there’s Burma near the end of the post.  Canada’s clearest thinking journalist cuts through the prevaricating political crap:

Andrew Coyne: Why criticize the Saudi arms deal but support a trade agreement with China?

This sort of hypocrisy [from the new Liberal government over the previous Conservative government’s deal to sell the Saudis armoured vehicles] has rightly brought the government in for some heavy criticism. But meanwhile there have been developments on another file, also to do with trade, also involving a notoriously brutal dictatorship. Yet far from igniting a similar firestorm of condemnation, the latter deal has been met largely with silence, if not outright approval.

I speak, of course, of the free trade agreement with China the government is reported to be seeking. To be fair, no one could accuse the Liberals of aping the Conservatives on this one.

The Harper government, you’ll remember, was almost as heavily criticized for its reluctance to deal with China — something about human rights abuses, I believe — as the Liberals have been for dealing with the Saudis. When the premier of China publicly lectured Stephen Harper, on his first visit to Beijing, for his standoffishness, political and opinion leaders in this country rushed to his side — the Chinese premier’s I mean, not the former prime minister’s [see also this post of mine elsewhere from 2006: “Blame Harper! Blame Harper!“].

Yet the Chinese dictatorship’s record on human rights is at least as bad as the Saudis’. It is very likely the world’s most prolific executioner

“China remains an authoritarian state,” Human Rights Watch observes, “one that systematically curbs fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion.” Overall, Freedom House assigns China a freedom rating of 6.5 on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being the best and 7 the worst. That’s better, marginally, than Saudi Arabia’s score: a perfect 7. But it hardly explains the very different responses they elicit.

Our relations with both regimes are decidedly ambiguous. The Saudis are officially our allies in the war on terrorism, yet among the world’s largest sponsors of Islamic extremism. The same Chinese government with whom we are so eager to do business has made us the target of massive campaigns of espionage and cyber-warfare [see, e.g., here]. 

This may be nothing more than a statement that the world’s a complex place. No doubt some degree of hypocrisy is unavoidable in foreign affairs. 

There will always be a tension between our ideals and pragmatic necessities; the result may sometimes look a lot like selective morality. But we might at least acknowledge this, rather than pretending to a moral purity we do not possess or even aspire to.

But Canadian hypocrisy and over-weening self-regard wash whitest, don’t you know.  It is nonetheless so simpler when we come down hard on a nasty and brutish Myanmar–where we have no real interests (and note we still have some serious sanctions, including an arms embargo, on the country despite reforms over recent years).  Ah, the perishing sanctimony of it all.  

Plus based on Mr Coyne from 2012:

Dealing with the Dragon Devil, or…


The Beaver and the Dragon: Stupidity and Hypocrisy

Dragon Finally to Curb Human Organ Appetite?

Dragon Still Torturing

Those Jolly Jihadi Saudis, Part 3

Saudis Decapitate at Great Rate

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


9 thoughts on “Mark Collins – Dead People and Canadian Policy: The Saudis’ Sword and the Dragon’s Bullets”

  1. There are of course some real differences. Not that I am saying we need to jump on a China deal.

    China has the potential to buy things from us that won’t be used to kill civilians. The Saudis? Not so much. China absolutely will be the biggest economy in the world soon. The Saudis? The biggest buyer of Italian exotic sports cars maybe. China buys things they need. The Saudis have a long record of buying things to shut people up who criticize them. You know like Canada.

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