Mc­Cal­lum’s odi­ous court­ing of China

‘A cal­lous un­con­cern’ for hostages

National Post (National Edition) - - Front Page - ANDREW COYNE

Is it pos­si­ble to reap­point John Mc­Cal­lum as am­bas­sador to China just so he can be fired again?

The politi­cian turned diplo­mat turned nei­ther, whose un­fil­tered mus­ings on Sino-Cana­dian re­la­tions were his un­do­ing ear­lier this year, has done it again. In a jaw-drop­ping in­ter­view with the South China Morn­ing Post, Mc­Cal­lum vol­un­teers that he has been warn­ing his con­tacts in the Chi­nese for­eign min­istry to avoid fur­ther “pun­ish­ments” to Cana­dian ex­ports, in the es­ca­lat­ing con­flict over Canada’s ar­rest and pos­si­ble ex­tra­di­tion of Huawei ex­ec­u­tive Meng Wanzhou to the United States.

He has been is­su­ing these warn­ings, be­cause … why? Be­cause China has no valid rea­son to block our ex­ports? Be­cause it has no le­git­i­mate grounds to ob­ject to Meng’s ar­rest, which was en­tirely law­ful, un­der­taken by in­de­pen­dent law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, re­viewed by im­par­tial courts and in ac­cor­dance with Canada’s bi­lat­eral treaty obli­ga­tions?

Be­cause China’s kid­nap­ping of two Cana­di­ans in re­sponse, Michael Spa­vor and Michael Kovrig, whom it has been hold­ing hostage the past seven months, was none of these things, an in­tol­er­a­ble af­front to in­ter­na­tional law, not to say hu­man de­cency?

No, be­cause it “will help the Con­ser­va­tives,” who “are much less friendly to China than the Lib­er­als.” Rather than any­thing “more neg­a­tive against Canada,” he sug­gests, “it would be nice if things will get bet­ter be­tween now and the elec­tion.”

Be­sides, “Canada is in China for the long run … This prob­lem will pass.”

In case any­thing was lost in the trans­la­tion: the for­mer am­bas­sador to China for Canada has not only been, by his own ad­mis­sion, en­list­ing China’s aid in re-elect­ing the Lib­er­als — invit­ing the lead­er­ship of a hos­tile for­eign power, if not to in­ter­vene in the next elec­tion on their be­half, then to re­frain from act­ing in a way that would help their op­po­nents — but coach­ing them how to do it.

Among the many, many ques­tions raised by the for­mer am­bas­sador’s new gig as a free­lance po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant: whose in­ter­ests was he tak­ing it upon him­self to de­fend? The Lib­eral party’s, cer­tainly. China’s ap­par­ently. It’s just not clear where Canada’s in­ter­ests fit into his think­ing — ex­cept, of course, so far as the in­ter­ests of the Lib­eral party are as­sumed to be syn­ony­mous with Canada’s.

Does the prime min­is­ter agree that the Con­ser­va­tives are “much less friendly,” and its corol­lary that the Lib­er­als are much more friendly, with a regime Hu­man Rights Watch calls “a one-party au­thor­i­tar­ian state that sys­tem­at­i­cally curbs fun­da­men­tal rights”? If so, why? On what grounds? How is this man­i­fested? And are these feel­ings, shall we say, re­cip­ro­cated? Should we ex­pect, as Mc­Cal­lum sug­gests, “things will get bet­ter” in time for the elec­tion? Should the hostages sit tight for the next few months, await­ing an Oc­to­ber sur­prise?

Worse yet is the sug­ges­tion that this is all just a bump in the road, a pass­ing mis­un­der­stand­ing be­tween two friends that should not be al­lowed to get in the way of the im­por­tant work of suck­ing up to the gov­ern­ment that has cur­rently im­pris­oned two of our ci­ti­zens in rooms where the lights never go out.

To the con­trary, Mc­Cal­lum ad­vises, now is the time — “when the go­ing is tough” — for Cana­dian po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness lead­ers “not just to come to China but to come of­ten ... This will put our com­pa­nies in a good po­si­tion to do well when the go­ing im­proves.” After all, “other nations have had prob­lems with China in the past. And are now do­ing just fine.”

Just fine. Beyond the cal­lous un­con­cern for the fate of the hostages, this is a fun­da­men­tal mis­read­ing of the sit­u­a­tion. China to­day, un­der the per­ma­nent lead­er­ship of Xi Jin­ping, is not the China peo­ple might have imag­ined, even a decade ago, would emerge. It is not on the road to democ­racy, not open­ing it­self to the world, not west­ern­iz­ing.

It is, rather, pro­foundly au­thor­i­tar­ian, in­creas­ingly na­tion­al­ist, re­pres­sive within — not least to the mil­lion or more Uyghurs, mem­bers of the coun­try’s Turk­ish mi­nor­ity, it has herded into “re-ed­u­ca­tion” camps in the prov­ince of Xin­jiang — and ag­gres­sive with­out.

The fra­cas over Meng’s ex­tra­di­tion is only a flash­point, then, in a larger con­flict. The regime’s thug­gish re­sponse has of­fered a timely sig­nal of how much China has changed, and of the need to re­frame our ap­proach to it ac­cord­ingly. It is to its dis­credit that the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment did not un­der­stand this be­fore; but it re­quires a quite ex­tra­or­di­nary blind­ness not to un­der­stand it even now.

It’s fine to say that Mc­Cal­lum is no longer am­bas­sador. But it was the Lib­er­als who ap­pointed him. A for­mer se­nior min­is­ter in the Trudeau gov­ern­ment, he is a card-car­ry­ing mem­ber of the Lib­eral es­tab­lish­ment, the same mix of po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness types that have been so vis­i­bly pant­ing after a free trade deal with China, to the point of de­mand­ing, against all prin­ci­ple or prece­dent, that Meng be set free. He comes from their world, shares their val­ues, in­clud­ing that strange mix­ture of naivete and cyn­i­cism when it comes to China’s “ba­sic dic­ta­tor­ship.”

Even as am­bas­sador, he had to pipe up twice — once to sug­gest that Meng had a good case against ex­tra­di­tion, the other to muse that “it would be great for Canada” if the Amer­i­cans dropped their re­quest — be­fore the prime min­is­ter fired him.

Many sus­pected then that he was, if not speak­ing for the gov­ern­ment, then at least re­flect­ing their think­ing. Does he do so now?

Post­media News

Michael Kovrig (top) and Michael Spa­vor


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