The federal government has broken off the 5G relationship with Huawei for very good national security reasons, but doesn’t want to incur Beijing’s wrath by saying that straight out, writes Charles Burton in the Ottawa Citizen. 

By Charles Burton, November 20, 2020 

With Global Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne scheduled to give evidence Monday to the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-China relations, expect a lot of hemming and hawing over why he voted against an Opposition motion for Canada to announce a decision on Huawei 5G before Christmas.

He’ll also have to explain why Canada has not undertaken effective measures to stop covert, coercive activities by Chinese agents who seek to influence Canadian policymakers and intimidate human rights defenders in Canada’s Uighur and Tibetan communities, pro-democracy activists, campaigners for freedom in Hong Kong or practitioners of Falun Gong. Canada’s policy on this so far has been akin to the “ghosting” (that is, withdrawing without explanation) of a discarded romantic partner. Canada has broken off the 5G relationship with Huawei for very good national security reasons, but doesn’t want to incur Beijing’s wrath by telling them straight out.

The argument that “ghosting” might obtain the release of Michaels Kovrig and Spavor, or avoid further economic retaliation that punishes Canadian business and farmers, has proven wrong-headed. After 711 days, two exemplary Canadian citizens are still in prison hell in the People’s Republic of China, neither of them deserving such vulgar abuse as Beijing tries to force Canada to comply with China’s political demands. Beijing obviously does not reward passivity with gestures of goodwill, and if the federal government continues to give in to the PRC’s amoral “wolf warrior diplomacy,” expect China to be thus emboldened to demand that Canada offer successive concessions in years ahead.

In 2018, China declared itself a “near-Arctic state” and called for a “Polar Silk Road” to not only expedite shipping through our Arctic waters, but develop ports, infrastructure, military presence and extract resources in Canada’s North. The carrot for Canada would ostensibly be huge Chinese state investment and developmental benefits, but this is all simply part of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s strategy to displace the United States as the world’s dominant political and economic power by 2050, which will be the 100th anniversary of China’s People’s Republic.

This is all consistent with the PRC’s strong insistence that Canada not only allow Huawei free rein over our telecommunications framework, but that Canada cease its “discriminatory” security review process over any PRC acquisitions of critical Canadian natural resources and infrastructure.

Where is Canada’s appeasement of China ultimately leading? If push came to shove, would we revisit the decision to keep Aecon Construction out of Chinese state control? China certainly sees precedent for this, as our current government in 2017 inexplicably reversed the Harper cabinet’s 2015 denial of Hong Kong O-Net’s application to take over ITF Technologies of Montreal, a leader in advanced fibre-laser technology with military applications. It was because CSIS reportedly had advised that O-Net is effectively controlled by the Chinese state that Canada passed up China’s generous monetary inducements to OK that acquisition, despite the lobbying of Canadians who would have benefitted richly from the sale.

Little wonder that Beijing clearly perceives that holding Kovrig and Spavor is working out well, keeping Canada from retaliating for China’s flouting of accepted norms of international diplomacy and trade. It’s time Canada did the right things: ceasing to turn a blind eye to China’s money diplomacy meant to influence Canadian policymakers; adopting zero tolerance of Chinese state harassment of people in Canada; sanctioning Chinese officials who have wealth invested here and are complicit in the Uighur genocide; offering safe harbour to all Hong Kongers at risk of arrest under the PRC’s draconian National Security Law; and stringently inspecting all Chinese shipments into Canada to stem the flow of fentanyl.

As for Huawei, we really need to make a clear and principled statement. In doing so, China will have no reason to further poison its relationship with Canada by keeping Kovrig and Spavor so brutally incarcerated.

Ghosting has not worked in this relationship. It is time to make clear our Canadian intentions.

Charles Burton is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, and non-resident senior fellow of the European Values Center for Security Policy in Prague. 

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