Former Canadian senator lauds U of A's engagement with China

(Edmonton) A former Canadian senator says the growing number of Chinese students coming to the University of Alberta reflects a vote of confidence by the Chinese authorities on the university.

Douglas Roche recently returned from a trip to China sponsored by the U of A’s China Institute. The former chairman of the United Nations Disarmament Committee says he is impressed with the number of Chinese students who will come to the university this fall.

“The demand by Chinese students for the opportunity to study at the University of Alberta reflects the outward dimensions of the new China. The number of students coming to the U of A reflects the confidence that the Chinese authorities have in the university,” Roche said.

Roche, an advocate for nuclear disarmament, was in Beijing and Shanghai where he lectured and met with students with the China Foreign Affairs University, the Beijing Foreign Studies University, officials with the China Institute of International Studies and the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, and senior officials with China’s Department of Arms Control in Beijing.

Gordon Houlden, director of the China Institute, says the trip was part of the institute’s efforts at creating opportunities for dialogue on key international issues with China. “In the past, we’ve sent researchers and academics to China, but this is the first time we’ve sent a prominent internationally recognized political player,” Houlden said.     

“The primary focus of the China Institute is academic exchanges between China and Canada. But we have an important role to work to improve relations between Alberta, Canada and China,” Houlden said. “The Chinese are a major power—potentially they could become a superpower in the 21st century,” and cites the July 17–21 visit of Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, as an example of the importance a strong China-Canada relationship.

It is important that China gets an opportunity to hear a range of views, including from someone like ambassador Roche who’s focused on disarmament, said Houlde, and that the Chinese have always welcomed the institute’s efforts at creating opportunities for mutual understanding and co-operation with Canada through the U of A. According to Roche, that tradition of welcoming the institute’s ideas was evident during his trip.

“The existence of the China Institute is an instrument for dialogue and I found that there was receptivity to my message in both the government and academic spheres,” Roche said. “The discussions I had led me to think that this channel of communication�on Canadian and Chinese views concerning the development of international relations in the 21st century�could well prove beneficial to both sides.

“The commonalities of interest between Canada and China are quite striking and need to be highlighted so that both sides contribute to the development of the human security agenda.” 

One of the fundamental roles of universities is to provide a universal viewpoint and a broad understanding of the world, Houlden says. “The China Institute is always looking for quality opportunities to bring policy makers and academics together in ways that promote better international understanding and global security,” he said.

Roche, also a former U of A political science professor, agrees on the need for more such opportunities. “The China Institute has an impressive range of contacts in China and it bodes well for an enlarge range of contacts. I would want to encourage the U of A to maintain and increase its set of relationships with China. The exchanges would prove very beneficial as the years go on,” he said.

“The U of A is in the vanguard of institutions in Canada deepening contacts within a country that is destined to play the major role in building the conditions for peace in the 21st century.”