COMMENTARY: Biden presidency could be good for Canada-U.S. relations — especially regarding China

Other than the decision to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, it’s been a disappointing and regrettable four years insofar as the Canada-U.S. relationship is concerned.

Maybe that’s partly because of outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump’s own personal animosity toward our prime minister. Mind you, Canada’s hardly an isolated case, as the Trump years have seen an erosion of several other traditional and important American alliances. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be the case for many of America’s — and Canada’s — adversaries.

While Joe Biden’s presidency isn’t necessarily going to be a panacea when it comes to Canada-U.S. relations, there are plenty of reasons for optimism when it comes to the prospect of at least some stability and normalcy, if not some marked improvement.

One area, in particular, that could benefit from a new approach is the current situation with China. Hopefully, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is savvy enough to recognize this and to start laying the groundwork for a meaningful reset come January.

Overall, it’s probably not likely that U.S. policy toward China is going to change that much. What would be a change — and a welcome one at that — would be some consistency. Trump was all over the map when it came to China and that approach proved detrimental to Canada.

After Canada arrested and commenced extradition proceedings against Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou — at the behest of the Americans, of course — Trump then turned around and suggested that he might intervene in the case if it meant a trade deal with China could get done.

Of course, Meng’s arrest prompted a furious reaction from China and that ultimately led to the arbitrary arrest and detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. It’s been almost 700 days now of brutal captivity for the two Michaels.

Obviously, the blame here lies squarely with China and Canada needs to stand firm against this sort of hostage diplomacy. Unfortunately, though, not only did Trump undermine our basis for arresting Meng Wanzhou, he has not seemed inclined to put much effort into pushing China to free the two Canadians.

Canada should certainly be prepared to stand with the U.S. when it comes to confronting China’s aggressive ambitions. It’s not unreasonable, though, to expect the U.S. to stand by us, especially in a geopolitical legal matter that is of great importance to America.

So far, there are encouraging signs that the president-elect understands and appreciates the importance of this relationship. Trudeau was actually the first foreign leader that Biden spoke with once the presidential election results became clear.

There is also another area related to China where U.S. policy could take a positive turn and better align Canada and the U.S.

Under Barack Obama (and in the face of opposition within his own party), the U.S. was originally part of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Once Trump was sworn in as president, though, the U.S. pulled out of the agreement. Fortunately, the TPP was salvaged by the remaining 11 countries, Canada included.

And while, in the short term, Canada might have a trade advantage over the U.S. as a result of our access to these markets, in the long run, we should want the U.S. to be a part of this agreement. The whole concept behind the TPP was to provide a counterweight to China. Ultimately that’s undermined by America’s absence.

Given that Biden was vice-president when the U.S. position on TPP was the sensible one, there’s reason for optimism on this file, too.

Of course, we should temper our expectations about the incoming president. Biden will have plenty on his plate and may still face a Republican Senate as well as competing factions and expectations within his own party.

At the same time, though, it’s hard to see how the American relationship with key allies could get any worse than it has over the last four years. Cautious optimism seems to be in order at this point.

Rob Breakenridge is host of ‘Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge’ on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.

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