TIME TO PUSH BACK AGAINST CHINA
Canada will benefit from striking now rather than later on the Huawei ban
Just the other day, I was out for lunch with a senior public policy advisor and the conversation to drifted to how odd it is that for decades successive Canadian governments have been so enamoured with cozying up to the Chinese leadership in Beijing.
Then, right at that moment, a former senior cabinet minister walked into the restaurant inexplicably wearing a traditional Chinese-style outfit. We did a double take. The timing was straight out of a sitcom.
I don’t know what the story was behind the fashion choice but the visual — an elder statesmen of Canadian politics dressed in Chinese fashion, like some sort of solidarity gesture, right as their government is trying to turn the screws on us — was sure something.
There’s a lot of handwringing going on right now in political, business and academic circles about how the CanadaChina relationship is becoming damaged. This is in part because there’s a lot of Chinese money in political, business and academic circles. Some of the damage control attitude going on right now is about people protecting their self-interests.
But it’s also because the old thinking from the 1990s wrongly assumed that after China joined the World Trade Organization and opened itself more to the world it wouldn’t be that far away from becoming a Westernstyle, liberal democratic country just like ours.
That didn’t happen. China is still a single-party country led by the Communists and current leader Xi Jinping’s hold on power has been described as the greatest since Chairman Mao.
So let’s say Canada doesn’t succeed in cooling things down.
Let’s say the relationship continues to go frosty.
How bad could it all get?
Maybe Beijing will try to stop its wealthy from buying real estate in Vancouver. Maybe its state-owned enterprises will stop trying to buy up our companies and natural resources.
Maybe Huawei will slow its investments in the Canadian telecom market. Maybe we’ll get the cold shoulder from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Chinese project that we’ve signed up for against the urges of the U.S. that seeks to rival the IMF and the World Bank for dominance over world finance.
Let’s say all of these things happen. Can anyone tell me why this would be a bad thing?
If we advance our relationship with Beijing in a way that works for us and is consistent with our vision of what we want the world to look like in the decades to come, so be it. That’s not how things have been shaping up though.
Instead of becoming more like us, the long-term strategy for the Chinese government is to bring the rest of us all further into its sphere of influence. It’s what they’re aggressively doing right now to countries in Eastern Europe, Africa and elsewhere.
Does anyone in Canada seriously want any part of this? Hopefully not. And yet we’re currently acting like deer frozen in the headlights, too paralyzed to act, while China keeps mounting its offence.
After we arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S., China arrested not one but two Canadians in retaliation. That’s already a sign that they’re not looking to match us but one up us.
Then just the other day its ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, penned an article in The Hill Times accusing us of “Western egotism” and “white supremacy” because we’re calling for the release of our detainees.
The nerve of it. The story has already been shared around the world, including by Chinese news outlets. The men in Beijing are trying to both put us on the defensive and frame the narrative.
Provoke a reaction
Now I get that these sorts of things are meant to provoke a reaction from us so, one might argue, why play into their hands? But some insults just can’t be left to fester.
After Canada first detained Meng, our Ambassador to China John McCallum was summoned to appear before Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng to answer for our supposed wrongdoings. Let’s do a titfor-tat here. Someone in the Canadian government needs to kindly invite Ambassador Lu Shaye over to tell him face-to-face that we’ll have no more of his nonsense, thank you very much.
But let’s get to the real thing that needs addressing: The Huawei ban.
On Friday, a Chinese manager at Huawei’s Poland offices was arrested and charged with spying on Poland on behalf of China. This is exactly the sort of thing that makes experts around the world urge Canada to follow suit with its intelligence-sharing allies and ban Huawei from having anything to do with building the infrastructure around our new generation 5G telecommunications grid. There are very serious accusations out there that Huawei engages in espionage on behalf of the Chinese government (which the company routinely denies).
It seems all but inevitable that this ban will now happen, given how poisoned the well has become. So what’s the hold up?
Conventional political wisdom is that we wait until all of this has passed and then on, say, a Friday in the summer we quietly announce the ban, so it doesn’t look like we’re doing this for political reasons.
But this isn’t a conventional situation.
And it’s certainly not how they operate. Instead of just passively sitting around and waiting to see what Beijing does to us next, doing the ban sooner than later will send a clear signal that we’re not going to take any of it from them anymore.
And yet we’re currently acting like deer frozen in the headlights, too paralyzed to act, while China keeps mounting its offence.
A mother and child walk past a TV in New Taipei City, showing China’s leader Xi Jinping making a speech.