CBC Digital Archives

1971: Canada and Communist China open diplomatic relations

"When the sleeping dragon awakes," Napoleon once said of China, "he will shake the world." In the 20th century, multiple upheavals shook the Asian giant. The rule of emperors gave way to civil war and the Communist revolution, closing China to the world. The doors slowly opened in the 1970s with new diplomatic ties and economic reforms. The crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989 barely checked China's growth, and today the world's most populous nation is on its way to superpower status. CBC Archives presents China as CBC journalists have seen it over the decades.

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Monday Feb. 1, 1971, marked a turning point in Canada's relationship with the world when an envoy from China arrived in Ottawa to establish an embassy. On the same day in the Chinese capital, a Canadian flag was hoisted above the new Canadian Embassy. The event marked the first time in more than 20 years that Communist China had enjoyed diplomatic relations in North America. This clip from The National reports on the Chinese diplomatic team's arrival in Ottawa to prepare the new embassy. (This is the audio of a TV report for which video is unavailable.)
• Canada suspended diplomatic relations with China in 1949, following the formation of the People's Republic of China by Communist leader Mao Zedong.

• Negotiations to repair the countries' relationship began in 1968, under the direction of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. This resulted in an October 1970 agreement stating that the countries would establish diplomatic missions within six months.

• A Chinese delegation of 11 people arrived in Ottawa on the morning of Feb. 1, 1971, to set those plans in motion.

• The Chinese diplomatic corps was headed by chargé d'affaires, Hsu Chung-fu, who had left Beijing (then called Peking) on Jan 26. The group arrived in Montreal four days later, where they were secreted away in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

• They took an early morning train to the nation's capital, where they were met by Arthur Andrew, head of External Affairs' Asian branch.

• The Globe and Mail reported that the delegation wore "identical fur hats and grey military-style suits" and spoke only briefly to a group of journalists.

• Speaking through a translator, Hsu read from a prepared text saying he was "convinced that our relationship will develop...in a good way. I and my colleagues will make our due efforts."

• Hsu said Canada and China had re-opened diplomatic relations after agreeing to respect each other's sovereignty and "territorial integrity." He added that the countries had shared values, such as a belief in peaceful co-existence and equality for all of their citizens.

• On the same day, Canadian officials were opening up their embassy in Beijing in a two-storey office building that formerly housed the Pakistani Embassy.

• A Globe and Mail reporter wrote "The Maple Leaf banner is snapping in Peking's chilly wind and the Canadian Embassy is open for business," adding that "the red and white standard stood out brilliantly against the cold blue sky."

• Unlike Canada, China had no embassy to call its own until later in the year.

• The envoy was put up in a downtown apartment building while a location could be selected.

• The countries officially exchanged ambassadors in the summer of 1971, with Canada's Ralph Collins flying to Beijing in June and China's Huang Ha arriving in Ottawa on July 23.

• Chinese officials moved into a larger 15-room, three-storey mansion in downtown Ottawa in July 1971.

• They later moved into their current location, a former monastery and convent on Ottawa's tony St. Patrick street.

• In the summer of 1971, U.S. President Nixon announced he would pay a landmark state visit to China the following year. In addition, later in the year, China was welcomed into the United Nations following years of U.S.-led opposition.

• In October 1973, Trudeau became the first Canadian prime minister to pay an official visit to China.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Feb. 1, 1971
Guest(s): Hsu Chung-fu
Host: Lloyd Robertson
Reporter: Ken Mason
Duration: 1:54
This is the audio of a TV report for which video is unavailable.

Last updated: March 20, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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