In the Star today, former diplomat Harry Sterling has some advice for Stephen Harper on the delicate art of international relations:
Leaders of governments who confuse their own personal viewpoints with those of their countries' national interests can cause unwelcome and even dangerous consequences for their fellow countrymen.
In particular, Sterling feels Harper's stubborn insistence on meeting whomever he wants is very provocative and insensitive to our Chinese friends:
Harper will meet the Dalai Lama openly with the media in attendance. The forthcoming encounter has already been criticized by the Chinese authorities as interference in China's internal affairs.
Beijing's unhappiness with Harper's meeting the Dalai Lama is thus not unexpected. Nor is China's growing displeasure with the pro-Taiwan stance of many prominent members of Harper's Conservative party.
Although Members of Parliament have as much right as anyone else to be favourably disposed towards the Dalai Lama – or Taiwan for that matter – totally ignoring the possible negative trade fallout is another matter, especially since China is now Canada's fourth-largest export market.
As much as some would praise Harper for standing up for his principles in such cases, others see such actions as potentially undermining important national interests, a concern that even the Canadian business community has voiced in the past.
Certainly this is very good advice. Maintaining good relations with our trading partners should be the primary goal of our foreign policy. So what if the Chinese openly support the brutal regimes in Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea, and Zimbabwe? And so what if they're pretty brutal themselves? Requiring our Prime Minister to consult with an oppressive foreign government on what he can say or who he can meet with is a small price to pay to avoid any risk to the supply of merchandise for our dollar stores.
And Sterling has more advice:
The fact Harper has remained remarkably silent about the violation of international law and human rights covenants by the Bush administration – President George W. Bush countenancing practices considered torture – has only reinforced the view of those who regard his support for human rights and religious freedoms as highly selective. As well, Harper seems indifferent to the imprisonment at the notorious U.S. prison at Guantanamo, Cuba, of Canadian teenager Omar Khadr, incarcerated since July 2002 when he was captured at the age of 15 in Afghanistan.