A Hobson's choice : the recognition question in Canada-China relations, 1949-1950

Olaf Hall Leiren
This paper examines events surrounding Canada's negotiations on the question of recognizing the People's Republic of China in 1949 and 1950, and the reasons why the negotiations failed. The focus is on the work of officials in the Canadian Embassy in Nanking and External Affairs in Ottawa, particularly External Affairs Minster Lester B. Pearson. Both Nanking and External Affairs, Ottawa, strove to promote recognition, which was approved in principal by the Canadian government but never
more » ... but never actualized. Pearson and his department, spurred by Canadian officials on the ground in China, chiefly Ambassador T. C. Davis and his second-in-command, China specialist Chester Ronning, favoured early recognition, as a means of influencing the Communist government away from total dependence on the Soviet Union. The Canadian government weighed the desirability of recognition against what it saw as the necessity of solidarity of the North Atlantic alliance with the United Kingdom and the United States, in particular, against what they perceived as the machinations of the Soviet Union in its perceived drive for world domination. In the final analysis the Canadian government, fearful of alienating the United States, opted for solidarity of the Western Alliance on the recognition question. The focus of the essay, based in large measure on External Affairs documents and the Pearson Papers, is to look at the recognition question and how it played out, in Canadian domestic terms, rather than in terms of Great Power relationships, which is largely the preoccupation in the historiography. A brief window of opportunity occurred in late 1949 and early 1950, when Canada might have recognized without potentially serious repercussions on Canada-US relations. That moment passed quickly and the outbreak of the Korean War and China's entry in the conflict against UN forces, essentially destroyed any opportunity for Canada and Communist China to develop normal relations.
doi:10.14288/1.0089444 fatcat:ojqnzsiyxzfjneocj6vechahkm