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FAO victory fails to ease China’s anger

FAO victory fails to ease China’s anger

FAO elects China’s Dr. Qu Dongyu as new director general

By Owen Roberts

When the candidate from China won Sunday’s election for director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, some people thought that victory might mark the start of a more diplomatic international era for the country – maybe even open the door for repairing damaged relations with Canada.    

But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

On Tuesday, China took the next step in its mean-spirited fight with Canada, saying it would turn away all meat exports from our country because of alleged fake veterinary inspection certificates here. 

“In order to protect the safety of Chinese consumers, China has taken urgent preventive measures and requested the Canadian government to suspend the issuance of certificates for meat exported to China. We hope the Canadian side would attach great importance to this incident, complete the investigation as soon as possible and take effective measures to ensure the safety of food exported to China in a more responsible manner,” the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Canada said on its website.

And that’s the kind of volley that underlines why, when the FAO election ballots were counted Sunday, Dr. Qu Dongyu of China emerged victorious. He received a whopping 108 votes out of 191 cast, constituting a majority in the first round.

Former Georgia farmer Dr. Davit Kirvalidze, who gained significant momentum as the election drew nearer, was trounced. He only received 12 votes. The third candidate, Catherine Geslain-Laneelle of France, received the rest.

So what happened?

First, it appears delegates didn’t want their countries’ exports to get squashed like bugs, given the way Canada has been run over since it upheld international law and took part in the extradition arrest of Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou.

And on the FAO front, delegates thought they had more to gain by siding up to a global superpower more likely to maintain FAO’s status quo, rather than to support a self-professed reformer like Kirvalidze who was going to shake things up.

Delegates get what they asked for in Qu Dongyu, a biologist by training, China’s vice minister of agriculture and rural affairs, and the country’s first FAO director general.

In his victory speech, Qu said he will be “committed to (FAO’s) original aspiration, mandate and missions of the organization.”

In other words, he’s planning to hold the line.

Second, delegates may have seen a vote for Qu as a glimmer of hope that China will look in the mirror.

In his speech, Qu also said he will “uphold the principles of fairness, openness, justice and transparency.” He added: “Let us join hand-in-hand to build the dynamic FAO for the better world."

That’s hard to handle, given how China throws Canadian farmers around like ragdolls.

Here’s the long view: with Qu in place as leader of the FAO, China can't talk out of both sides of its mouth. The country can’t be a global leader in addressing hunger and climate change – the FAO’s mandate – while simultaneously taking tyrannical positions against countries it needs as allies, such as Canada.

And given China’s abysmal environmental record, it’s surely exposed on the climate change front. Its newly minted FAO director general doesn’t need to be called out harshly on this matter, before he’s even warmed the seat.

So, maybe somewhere down the road, the FAO election outcome represents a new opportunity for Canada to exert pressure on China to back off its politically motivated position against our commodities.

But it could be a long, long road.

Dr. Qu Dongyu/Washington Post photo

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