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Retaliation seems to have little effect

China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-11 07:40

TORONTO - When Saudi Arabia ordered its citizens studying in Canada to abruptly leave the country, it left institutions such as Techno Canada in the lurch, forcing the small Toronto business school to scramble for new students in the middle of the summer.

Saudi Arabia and Canada are now in the worst diplomatic rift ever between the two nations. Canada is quietly nudging allies including Germany and Sweden for help with resolving the dispute, a government source said on Thursday.

Basu Mukherjee, head of Techno Canada, said the loss of Saudi students will hurt his bottom line. "It is going to be hard, but we will try our best to replace them."

Similar sentiments have been expressed in recent days across Canada as schools, hospitals and even some businesses largely shrug at Saudi Arabia's decision to punish the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over tweets supporting two activists.

In a sign that the Saudis may not have as much leverage over Canada as they thought, many in the nation say they are less concerned about the effects on Canada of the diplomatic spat than they are concerned for the well-being of the 15,000 students who were told they cannot resume studies for the fall semester and 800 doctors and medical residents who must leave by Sept 1.

"It's very difficult for people who have families and leases," said Dr Salvatore Spadafora who oversees 216 Saudi doctors and medical residents in the Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network. "They are all working very, very hard and trying to study, and then this happens."

The Saudi government expelled Canada's ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador on Sunday, days after two Canadian tweets in support of an arrested activist. Then it ordered the students home, a decision that affects institutions as small as Techno Canada, which has just 40 people enrolled, to major institutions such as the University of Toronto.

But even though the Saudis are a significant presence in Canadian hospitals and in higher education, contributing around $770 million to $1.1 billion to the Canadian economy last year, the overall effect is minimal since other foreign students can easily replace them.

Unload Canadian assets

Financial markets did not appear hurt by the dispute amid reports that the Saudis intended to unload Canadian assets. There were rumors that Kingdom Holding Co intended to sell its 47.5 percent stake in the Toronto-based luxury hotel chain Four Seasons. Company spokeswoman Sarah Tuite would only say that "day to day operations" have not changed. "It is business as usual," she said.

Bilateral trade between the two nations is just $3 billion a year. Canada does get 10 percent of its imported crude oil from Saudi Arabia, but even if the dispute escalates further, Saudi oil could potentially be replaced with US shale oil.

Saudi Arabia's energy minister said oil sales to Canada will not be affected.

The worst potential impact on Canada would be if Saudi Arabia canceled Canada's largest arms deal, a $15 billion deal with Saudi Arabia in 2014 to export its light-armored vehicles to the kingdom.

AP - AFP

(China Daily 08/11/2018 page9)

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