The October Handshake of 1970: Making Sense of Canada's Recognition of the People's Republic of China

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Li, Simon Ka Ho
Canada , China
After two decades of a disappointing relationship between Canada and the People's Republic of China (PRC)-- seriously damaged during the Korean War and relieved by wheat sales after the Great Leap-- Pierre Trudeau's government wanted to end China's isolation. The new prime minister was determined to ensure that his country could recognize the Communist regime. Even more surprisingly, Ottawa's opening of relations with Beijing would soon be followed by Washington. Such words as "rapprochement" were therefore repeated in North America as this extraordinary diplomatic event began to unfold in the late 1960s. In hindsight, Sino-Canadian rapprochement seems full of contradictions: at a time when Canada's closest ally was still fighting in Vietnam, and when the Chinese were shouting anti-imperialist slogans during the Cultural Revolution, how could it be possible that Ottawa and Beijing wished to become friends? The central question this thesis poses and answers is why the two governments suddenly shifted positions at such a politically sensitive moment. Offering different ways to understand this thirty-year-old question, the thesis re-examines Trudeau's and Maoist China's remarkable, but often forgotten, diplomatic breakthrough. Indeed, although Canadians were paying closer attention to the nation's "October Crisis" in 1970, the "October Handshake" in Stockholm between representatives of Canada and China in the same month was also a significant event. The success of such a diplomatic achievement could be seen in the Sino-American rapprochement that followed and in China's new place in the world community. Drawing on various historical records, including materials from the archives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Queen's University, this study explains the agreement between Beijing and Ottawa in 1970 as the coincidence of three crucial conditions: the rapidly changing geopolitical circumstances at the time, a favourable internal political climate, and the matching mentality of the extraordinary players from both countries. Furthermore, while existing accounts of Sino-Canadian rapprochement highlight both countries' external relations, this thesis will argue that an exploration of the dynamics of domestic politics and the roles of individual leaders can expand our understanding of decision-making during the process of normalization of relations between China and Canada.
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