International relations: Olympian force

A trade mission to Toronto underscores China’s pre-eminence.

As widely covered Tibetan protests disrupted the Olympic torch relay in London and Paris, a large group of senior finance executives working for Chinese state-owned businesses arrived in Toronto as part of a trade mission sponsored by the Canada China Business Council. Unfortunately timed, the event was nevertheless an example of how the cultural and economic accommodation surrounding China is all-consuming.

Olympic torch protests, the rising price of diesel fuel, global food riots, poison toys — all are single facets of a remarkable whole: the economic coming of age of one of the world’s oldest and most populous nations. And while many seek to demonize the Chinese economic dragon, others just want a piece of the lucrative action. And so it went at the Toronto trade summit. Dressed in uniform off-the-rack dark blue suits, managers of such companies as the China Cereals, Oils and Foods (Group) Co. Ltd. and the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. (Group) pitched their businesses to Canadian executives, and vice versa. (Well, one assumes that was what happened. The main seminar was conducted entirely in Mandarin, so it was hard to know for sure.) But the discussions at a meet-and-greet reception afterward, which veered at least partially into English, seemed to be about sourcing raw materials, making connections and possibly getting a listing on the TSX. Talk of Tibetan independence, not so much.

Perhaps that’s understandable. The ascendancy of China is such a phenomenon that it transcends good and bad — it just is. And it will go on for some time yet. “We have 300 million people who live on one dollar a day. These people must be brought into the new economy,” said Cui Jianchun of the China National Nuclear Corp. New consumers numbering 300 million; that’s roughly another United States. And Chinese engagement will be a journey much longer than that taken by the Olympic torch.