So long as there is this conscious failure to confront China, the Trudeau government simply cannot claim to have done all it can in the defence of our illegally detained Canadians, writes Shuvaloy Majumdar in the Toronto Sun

By Shuvaloy Majumdar, August 16, 2021

Nearly 1,000 days of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor being made into political hostages by the dragon state, following Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s lawful detention, has revealed a total failure of Canadian foreign policy. And, the situation has grown more dire.

Canadian Robert Schellenberg’s politically motivated death sentence has been upheld, and Spavor has been condemned to 11 years of incarceration over fabricated offences.

All we have to show in response are strongly worded statements and bromides, an indirect multinational denouncement of hostage diplomacy that fears to even utter the People’s Republic of China by name, and entreaties to two American administrations while upholding the false pretense that Canada is somehow caught between great power rivalry.

This is not a consequence of naivety, it is one of intention. The advice the Prime Minister has received is clear: he knows China is displaying its true character as a brutal regime, opposed to our interests, and hegemonic in its ambitions. Ottawa knows its inert approach has not and will not succeed in returning these kidnapped Canadians. Nor is the government realistically fearful about China’s potential retaliation, as they are surely well aware by now that Canada is more than capable of resisting Chinese coercion.

What appears to be the best explanation for Ottawa’s approach is both simple and disappointing: the federal government is deliberately choosing to do what does not work.

The government signals the bare minimum domestically, while doing nothing to meaningfully challenge Beijing abroad. We need not wait another day for some China policy to be delivered by the mandarins when it has been on open display all along: The Trudeau policy on China is to lay low and bide their time.

It is a deliberate choice to not decouple from China’s economic leverage, let alone reject Huawei’s 5G bid on legitimate national security grounds. Ottawa is making a choice by not sanctioning senior Communist Party officials for their role in hostage diplomacy.

It is not an accident that the federal government has failed to come to the defence of Hongkongers or elevate Taiwan’s status, has failed to dramatically turn to the wider Indo-Pacific for bold new economic and security alliances, and does not strenuously and publicly object to China’s ongoing cyberwarfare on Canada and foreign intimidation of Canadians.

This is to say nothing of Ottawa’s silence with respect to China’s emissions in global climate diplomacy, China’s genocide of Uyghurs, or China’s ongoing assault on Tibetans and religious minorities.

So long as there is this conscious failure to confront China, the Trudeau government simply cannot claim to have done all it can in the defence of our illegally detained Canadians. It cannot claim it has pursued all options when so many are still abundantly available.

The cold truth that has been revealed over the last thousand days is that rather than roaring to defend the security of Canadians set within the wider Canadian interest, the Prime Minister and his envoys present instead an apology to Beijing, and a record of decisions that telegraphs to Beijing that Ottawa is fine with the status quo.

In no world should the status quo be acceptable to Canadians, let alone to those Canadians languishing in China’s prisons. Serious leadership needs to emerge that is capable of making the serious decisions to treat China as the rival it has fashioned itself to be, reverse course from an ongoing legacy of abject failure, and animate the presence of an intelligent and active Canadian interest on the world stage.

And it is time to dispense with the vested interests of elite insiders, manifest now in two Canadian ambassadors to Beijing, whose collective counsel has resulted in diminished Canadian influence, everywhere.

Shuvaloy Majumdar is Foreign Policy Program Director and Munk Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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