Harper & China

Confucius didn’t predict Stephen Harper, but it seems that the great Chinese philosopher certainly anticipated politicians like him.

“The superior man understands what is right,” Confucius observed some 500 years before the birth of Christ, “the inferior man understands what will sell.”

And what “sold,” up until 2009 or so, was the Conservative leader’s undisguised contempt for China and its government.

Until he was finally persuaded to make a visit to China, in fact, Harper was almost alone in the Western world for his eagerness to disparage the world’s largest economic superpower.

They were little things — diplomatic snubs, really — but the Chinese took careful note of Harper’s condescension. He refused to attend the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympic Games. He awarded an honorary citizenship to the Dalai Lama, and courted Taiwan. He accused China of industrial espionage and attacked it over human rights issues.

Meanwhile, Harper’s minions made matters worse. At the time of the Beijing Games, Conservative MP Rob Anders likened the event to the Nazi Olympics of 1936. One of his ministers-to-be, Jason Kenney, was encouraged to write op-eds calling China “one of the world’s worst violators of human rights.”

Over and over, Harper dispatched his curs to assail former Prime Minister Jean Chretien for his enthusiastic support of trade with China.

As Confucius might have reminded Harper et al., what you say today may well come back to haunt you tomorrow.

Thus, this week’s decision by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration to put a hold on the Keystone pipeline — the pipeline that would carry crude from Alberta’s oilsands to refineries in the U.S. — shook the Harper government to its core.

Unlike everybody else, the Harper Cons had been seemingly unaware that it’s unwise to offer up big controversies during presidential election years.

Once he collected his wits, Harper’s first reaction was as revealing about what it said about his ethics as it does about the Conservatives’ maladroit foreign policy. China, he said — the country he and his underlings had once likened to Nazi Germany — would take our oil, even if the Americans won’t. Said he, with a straight face: “This does underscore the necessity of Canada making sure that we are able to access Asian markets for our energy products. I indicated that to President Hu (Jintao) of China.”

Got that? Then, China bad. Now, China, good. Simple.

If Confucius had uttered an aphorism about whiplash-inducing flip-flops by politicians on matters of great principle, we would insert it here, but he didn’t.

The Harper regime’s adolescent approach to foreign policy — remember NAFTA-gate? Its botched attempt at Security Council seat? Its barely disguised Islamaphobia? — is an ongoing international embarrassment. The volte-face on China is just the latest example.

If you are looking for a Conservative leader with a shrewder grasp of current affairs, look to Alberta PC Leader Alison Redford. The newly minted Alberta premier brought her pro-Keystone, pro-oilsands message to Toronto’s Bay Street this week and impressed many. As everyone from former prime minister John Turner to former federal minister Jim Prentice looked on, Redford acknowledged that Alberta was indeed an energy superpower — but subtly suggested that throwing one’s weight around isn’t ever in the national or provincial interest.

Redford spoke approvingly of Ontario’s attempts to promote alternative energy sources, and she carefully detailed her government’s attentiveness to environmental stewardship.

It was hard to picture Stephen Harper, or a member of his government, ever saying any of those things.

As she spoke, it was also evident that Redford isn’t prepared to exchange short-term gains for long-term pain. Confucius might say it’s that kind of approach — and not Harper’s — that wins friends.

And jobs.

And elections.

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