National Post

Timid democracie­s no match for bully China


Every year since 1973, the venerable American non-profit Freedom House organizati­on has been tracking the trajectory of freedom and democracy around the world, and every year for the past 15 years, democracy has been in decline. Last year was the worst year since democracy’s global retreat began. The Freedom House report for 2020 sheds a blinding light on the culpabilit­y of Xi Jinping’s China in this state of affairs, and the complicity of countries like Canada in democracy’s worldwide rout.

Released last week, the Freedom in the World report for 2020 shows a drop in aggregate scores for 73 countries, “shifting the internatio­nal balance in favour of tyranny.” Most of the world’s people live in countries where democratic prospects deteriorat­ed last year. Owing to India’s descent into the “partly free” classifica­tion, fewer than 20 per cent of the world’s people now live in free countries.

Violent conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic and economic dislocatio­n all combined to play a role in 2020’s bleak distinctio­n as the world’s worst year for democracy since 2006, but so did the transnatio­nal advance of police states.

“The malign influence of the regime in China, the world’s most populous dictatorsh­ip, was especially profound in 2020,” the report found.

Xi Jinping’s increasing­ly belligeren­t regime ramped up its global disinforma­tion operations, “meddling in the domestic political discourse of foreign democracie­s,” while Beijing championed the formation of autocratic alliances around a notion of “non-interferen­ce” that guarantees abuses of human rights and transgress­ions of internatio­nal law will go unpunished. Untroubled by the democracie­s’ timid protests, Beijing aggressive­ly extended its domestic rights abuses to the “demolition” of Hong Kong’s liberties and legal autonomy, the report noted.

“Beijing’s export of anti-democratic tactics, financial coercion, and physical intimidati­on have led to an erosion of democratic institutio­ns and human rights protection­s in numerous countries,” the report found.

“The campaign has been supplement­ed by the regime’s moves to promote its agenda at the United Nations, in diplomatic channels, and through worldwide propaganda that aims to systematic­ally alter global norms. Other authoritar­ian states have joined China in these efforts, even as key democracie­s abandoned allies and their own values in foreign policy matters. … even the world’s most egregious violations, such as the largescale forced sterilizat­ion of Uyghur women, are not met with a well co-ordinated response or punishment.”

This perfectly describes the postures Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has adopted in the case of Beijing’s outrages generally, but also particular­ly in the matter of Beijing’s genocidal torments of the Muslim Uyghurs of Xinjiang and other Turkic minorities. After everything the Xi regime has done, not so much as a single Chinese official is sanctioned under Canada’s Magnitsky laws. The Trudeau government’s rote excuse for inaction is that we must work with our allies. But when our allies act, Canada is absent.

And even when the House of Commons voted 226-0 last month to declare Beijing’s persecutio­n of the Uyghurs a genocide — which is also the bipartisan consensus of Canada’s closest allies, the Americans — Trudeau’s cabinet abstained from the vote. Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and British Foreign Minister

Dominic Raab agreed to “call on China to allow an internatio­nal and independen­t expert investigat­ion into allegation­s of genocide in Xinjiang.”

For a glimpse of what Beijing might allow for propaganda purposes along those lines, the World Health Organizati­on’s fatally compromise­d “investigat­ion” into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan will give you an idea. China won’t allow an independen­t investigat­ion of the kind Garneau describes, and Garneau knows it.

When he responded last month to the House of Commons vote — which also called for moving the 2022 Winter Games away from Beijing — Garneau said that what the government would need before agreeing with the House of Commons was “a credible internatio­nal investigat­ion” into the matter. Not that it should be expected to make a difference, but now we have one.

This week, the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a non-partisan thinktank based in Washington, D.C., released an exhaustive 25,000-word analysis relying on eyewitness evidence, satellite imagery and leaked Chinese government reports that shows conclusive­ly that Beijing’s state terror in Xinjiang constitute­s a total violation of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

“The evidence presented in this report supports a finding of genocide against the Uyghurs in breach of each and every act prohibited in Article II (a) through (e),” the analysis concludes.

Undertaken in co-operation with the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (I should disclose I’m one of the centre’s senior fellows), the Newlines Institute brought together several dozen experts in internatio­nal law and genocide studies along with authoritie­s on the subject of Chinese ethnic policy and experts on the region. Among them are David Scheffer, former U.S. Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues, John Packer, director of the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre, Baroness Helena Kennedy, the former principal of Oxford University’s Mansfield College, and four former Liberal cabinet ministers: Irwin Cotler, Yves Fortier, Allan Rock and Lloyd Axworthy.

In granular detail, the analysis sets out the Xi regime’s deliberate intention to destroy the Uyghur people through a system of targeted executions, top secret internment camps, the forcible sterilizat­ion of women, the forcible transfer of children into high-security orphanages and boarding schools, and the “eradicatio­n of Uyghur identity, community, and domestic life.”

The genocide involves systematic rape, sexual abuse and public humiliatio­n, the placement of Han Chinese Communist Party cadres in Uyghur homes, mass surveillan­ce including racial face-recognitio­n software, the mass transfer of Uyghur people into labour camps across China, and on and on.

Kyle Matthews, executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, says the Trudeau government’s reluctance to stand up to China can’t be explained away by the predicamen­t of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians imprisoned in China more than two years ago in retaliatio­n for the detention of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. Justice Department extraditio­n request.

As for the independen­t, on-the-ground investigat­ion Trudeau and Garneau say they want, “there’s no hope in hell” of that happening, Matthews told me. Beijing simply won’t allow it. While the Newlines Institute study deliberate­ly omits any recommenda­tions for action, Matthews says the obvious immediate course has been set out already, in last month’s 226-0 vote in the House of Commons: Declare Beijing’s crimes against its Muslim minorities to be a genocide, and stay away from the 2022 Winter Games.

That’s for starters. Canada should also be working for a “co-ordinated blockage” of Western companies operating in China and the barring of Chinese technology companies from further intrusion into Western democracie­s.

“Public diplomacy, public naming and shaming, and economic disentangl­ement,” he said. “I don’t know what else is going to work.”


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