D.卡尔顿 罗西
D. Carlton Rossi

Walk and Chew Gum


                           John McCallum and Miss Liu in Chongqing

                        Walk and Chew Gum 

It seems that Ambassador McCallum has a predeliction to use the expression "Walking and chewing gum at the same time". This particular expression is used in a non-standard way. What exactly though are its connotations?

The idiom is a variation of "Can't walk and chew gum at the same time". This is an idiom or popular saying which is quite outdated. Generally speaking, it means someone of low intelligence who can't perform two simple tasks which do not require thinking at the same time.

Since idioms tend to be overused they lose their meaning over long periods of time. In that case one must resort to using a similar idiom to define them. For example, it might be one can't "pat one's head and rub one's tummy at the same time" or "juggle two balls at the same time".

However, the expression "Walk and chew gum at the same time" connotes a person of intelligence who can competently handle two tasks. It is difficult to understand why this expression is used rather than the more modern multitasking. The expression somewhat contradicts his "political" slogan of more, more, more which is said almost at the same time. He wants more trade, more in­vest­ment, more tourists, and more co-op­er­a­tion in many ar­eas. This implies multitasking. Does he wish to undertake two tasks at the same time or to multitask? Perhaps he wishes to walk and chew gum while promoting more trade, more investments, more tourists and more co-operation.

However, walking and chewing gum are not equal tasks. We have walked for millions of years when we first came out of the trees, but have chewed gum for far less time. Walking is critical for us and gets us to where we are going, but chewing gum, at best, might be considered to help reduce stress.

Ambassador McCallum has said that "one qualification for being a Canadian ambassador in China is knowing how to walk and chew gum at the same time, because a big part of the job is seeing the huge opportunity for Canada, but also not agreeing with China on everything — including human right issues — which are issues of great importance to our mission." However, if seeing the huge opportunity for Canada is equivalent to walking and the counterpart of human rights is chewing gum then it may be inferred that seeing the huge opportunity is more important than human rights. In other words, trade is viewed growing dynamically while human rights are seen statically preserved.

Notice something else. Seeing the huge opportunity is expressed positively while not agreeing with China on human rights issues is expressed negatively thus implying lesser importance. In other words, McCallum uses his deviation in a positive sense, but his derivation of the original version of the idiom in the negative sense. In addition, seeing is more important than not agreeing. In the past, politicians used to say "listen"; however, today they do not say "Listen." but rather "Look".

"As I say we can walk and chew gum at the same time," Ambassador McCallum said. "The United States relationship is by far and away the most important, and the prime minister is actively pursuing that along with his cabinet, but meanwhile over in China, I am pursuing Canadian interests and values". Of course, Prime Minister Trudeau is mainly involved in trade talks with the United States and there is no criticism of Trump's preference for the Second Amendment over the First Amendment, his disdain for judges, or his denigration of former President Obama who is a constitutional expert.

Doesn't this quote also mean that Trudeau is walking in North America and the ambassador is chewing gum in China? With respect to China the ambassador is walking in regard to interests sympathetic to concerns of the Chinese government and chewing gum with respect to values. He does not say "I am pursuing Canadian values and interests" thus putting values first and foremost. Professor Charles Burton has said that "he couldn't recall the former minister ever broaching the subject of human rights in the country.

There is another nuance though conveyed in the expression "Walking and chewing gum at the same time". Chewing gum is a consistent habit. It doesn't change nor does it improve, but rather it is maintained. While there can be a huge opportunity or improvement in trade; nevertheless, only occasional individual cases of human rights violations are addressed and not collective instances. This is a consistent and unchanging attitude despite the fact that individual and collective rights have rapidly deteriorated in China with arrests of lawyers beginning with 709. One never hears that Canada needs more, more, and more of human rights or qualitative issues, but rather more, more and more of quantitative issues.

As Defence Minister, McCallum said "So it's like walking and chewing gum at the same time, we're doing practical things to protect the lives of Canadians and Americans, which I think is the highest duty of government, while at the same time safeguarding our sovereignty. It is clear here that protection as the highest duty is more important than safeguarding. It is also implied that practical things are more important than what may be considered symbolic things. One might conclude with respect to China that a practical thing like trade is more important than a symbolic thing like sovereignty.

Ambassador McCallum had indicated that Canada may use the China-Australia Free-Trade Agreement as a template. However, this treaty treats Australia's sovereignty in a very different manner from China's sovereignty. Chinese territory is defined as:

"the entire customs territory of the People’s Republic of China, including land, airspace, internal waters, territorial sea, and areas beyond the territorial sea within which China exercises sovereign rights or jurisdiction in accordance with international law and its domestic law".

This general definition as opposed to Australia's more specific definition is a very, important distinction. Whose territory is the port of Darwin purchased by the Chinese? Whose territory will be the port of Churchill in Canada if the Chinese were to purchase it? The definition of territory reflects the general and specific definitions of territory in the China-Canada FIPA agreement where Canada's are spelled out specifically and China's generally. Is Canada going to make a similar mistake in its Free-Trade agreement? Will it sacrifice sovereignty for free-trade while limiting trade protection?

As Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Refugees, John McCallum was asked an important question. “What do you say to Canadians who say to you (as you welcome 25,000+ Syrian refugees) what about our homeless people, our young people without jobs, our native population, our sick and our elderly? How do you keep that up”?

I say you can walk and chew gum at the same time. There are always going to be poor people in Canada. I think one of the greatest things on which we’re mandated to make progress is First Nations people, aboriginal people, indigenous people....

 “I think that is a good thing and I think when you think that this is the worst refugee crisis the world has known in decades. There are literally millions of people displaced. It is causing huge problems in the European Union which we hear about every day.

 “So I believe we are doing the absolute right thing in taking 25,000 people from the horrors of a civil war across the ocean and welcoming them here at home and most Canadians agree with that.

Note: The author has highlighted words of the text of several excerpts in order to deconstruct them.

It is a good thing to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada. It is admirable to come to the aid of First Nations, aboriginal and indigenous people. However, the author takes issue with expression of absolutes. By saying that there are "always going to be poor people in Canada implies that no change is ever possible. In other words, one can never walk and chew gum at the same time to solve the problem of poverty in Canada. "According to Raising the Roof, an organization that seeks long-term solutions to homelessness, over 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year."

With regard to the Syrian refugees McCallum begins by saying that it "is a good thing"; however, he then strengthens his argument by saying it is "the absolute right thing" to bring the refugees to Canada. One should also be aware or beware of how "think" becomes "believe" and an indefinite article becomes the definite article in a matter of seconds. Finally, there is another transition which seems a case of sophistry. The question asked of him which begins "What do you say" is transformed in the answer by McCallum to "I say you can". "I think that is a good thing" morphs in the same sentence to "I think when you think that this is the worse". You and you then magically transitions to "we".

Perhaps it would be helpful to look at the scientific evidence from a leading Canadian scientist regarding how we walk and chew gum at the same time. Philippe Kolta of the Université de Montréal says that simple rhythmic behaviour (such as walking or chewing) are executed automatically. However, Ambassador McCallum has said one qualification for being a Canadian ambassador in China is knowing how to walk and chew gum at the same time. Isn't the ability to breath, walk and chew gum at the same time better? Indeed, isn't it best if one can breathe, walk, talk and chew gum at the same time?

Finally, one may ask if the processes of walking and chewing gum at the same time are independent of each other. It appears the Honourable John McCallum believes they are. However, there is an argument made by Christopher Findlay regarding Australia's Free-Trade Area Strategy Policy that they are not entirely independent. He refers to Australia's trade strategy of pursuing FTA's and participating in the WTO. Findlay concludes the following: "The use of the preferential arrangements is a weak form of international commitment. Their use produces a series of agreements, perhaps in a hub and spoke formation, which are difficult to add together to make real free trade but which add to the costs of doing business. Furthermore, it can undermine higher level cooperation in the multilateral process."

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Université de Montréal, Canada Published June 3, 2014 Cite as eLife 2014;3:e03235
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The Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 46:4, pp. 605–617 Walking and chewing gum at the same time: Australia’s free trade area strategy Christopher Findlay 1467-8489.00195.pdf