By Duanjie Chen, November 5, 2019
The Canada-China relationship remains perhaps the most important and difficult challenge facing the Trudeau government as it gears up for its second term. Yet this relationship remains multifaceted and complex, requiring some thought on what should be prioritized in the coming weeks and months ahead.
Clearly, the government’s highest priority needs to be securing the release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who have been illegally imprisoned in China. This should be done by demanding that justice and the rule of law be applied to the two innocent Michaels, who currently languish in Chinese jails, rather than begging for personal favour.
The contrast between how China has treated these two innocent Canadians compared to how Canadian authorities have treated Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, whose lawful detainment in Vancouver triggered China’s hostage diplomacy, could not be starker. Indeed, we should be forthright in demanding reciprocity – that China should treat these two innocent Canadians with the same fairness and due process as what we have provided to Meng.
Canada should also appeal to our allies for a united, all-out campaign for stopping China’s hostage diplomacy. China needs to learn its limits; going softly and quietly will only embolden China’s misjudgment on its coercive power.
The same applies to China’s use of economic coercion, such as its ban on Canadian agriculture product exports to China, which are being used as pressure on Canadian authorities to release Meng. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would rather see its own people suffer, in this case by letting its domestic pork prices rise, than retreat from this arbitrary ban.
Our farmers need to count on global market trends, not the CCP’s leniency. If we look at the trend in Canadian pork price, both its highest and lowest levels for 2019 were higher than their 2018 counterparts. This proves once more that the global commodity market, where China is a major buyer and Canada a major supplier, will be our farmers’ true savior. Ultimately, our government should focus on helping our farmers diversify beyond China, with no illusion that China will loosen its ban anytime soon.
Yet, even as we try to free the two Michaels and mitigate the effects of China’s economic coercion, the Trudeau government must also deal with other aspects of the Canada-China relationship – and one of the most crucial outstanding issues is what to do with the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
On this area, Canada should move to ban Huawei from any involvement in our 5G system. We must place our national security above any commercial interest. Our government must listen to our national security experts who have repeatedly warned about the Huawei threat.
Aside from the evidence of Huawei’s threat as seen by our national security experts, 5G systems will connect everything we do in the future, particularly our critical infrastructure ranging from defence communication networks to power grids. Allowing Huawei, a CCP-favorited national champion, to infiltrate our 5G system would be a strategic mistake we cannot afford to make.
We should recognize that the Chinese government has never opened any of its telecommunication, transportation and power generation sectors to any foreign investors, because it sees these as strategically critical sectors. By blocking foreign telecom and hardware suppliers from such sectors, Beijing had helped Huawei to dominate its domestic market in the first place, eventually propelling Huawei to expand globally at an unprecedented speed.
Canadians need to ensure that we do not kowtow to China’s coercion and bullying – and this should apply equally at home and abroad.
At home, we should be deeply worried about the Chinese government’s encouraging and controlling of pro-China and anti-Hong Kong demonstrations. Such demonstrations are different from defending freedom of speech. It’s the opposite: it’s imposing a foreign official ideology through concerted efforts by foreign officials. This is overt foreign interference and needs to be stopped by some kind of legislation urgently.
If we ignore such overt interference, the Chinese communities here will become infiltrated by CCP enclaves on our soil, which will threaten our Canadian way of life (as seen in many recent cases, such as the one involving Chemi Lhamo, a freely elected University of Toronto student leader who is Tibetan-Canadian and has been under organized attack by Chinese students precisely for that reason).
Our government should ask a very simple question: Can we, are we able to, and do we even want to do the same in China? If not, why should we allow CCP to act in this manner on Canadian soil?
Yet Canadians also need to speak out on international issues that concern China’s violation of human rights and rule of law– from the CCP’s egregious human rights abuses in Xinjiang to its heavy-handed approach to Hong Kong protests. When it comes to defending our values, including rule of law, we should never show fear but resolve. Of course, I am not suggesting a blind confrontational approach, but rather clarity and firmness whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself to stand for our values and national interests.
On Hong Kong in particular, we must never retreat from urging China to stick to its “one country, two systems” promise to the Hong Kong people and international community through the law it signed with the British government.
Some influential Canadians have long seen China as a welcome counterweight to the American power. Yet, it is no longer acceptable to ignore China’s authoritarian nature after it has done so much to violate our values. Our government should not use President Trump’s erratic manner as a scapegoat for our own years-long emboldening of China’s bullying on Canada; instead, we should coordinate closely with bipartisan US lawmakers in our policy direction concerning China.
If we can be thankful toward Beijing for anything, it is that its own belligerence has given Canada’s approach towards China a much-needed jolt. As Canadian policy-makers consider how to reshape this approach, they would do well to prioritize Canada’s national interests and show steadfast resolve in the face of China’s sharp-power aggression.
Duanjie Chen, an independent scholar with a PhD in economics, is a Munk Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.