PM must solve his Chinese puzzle
The sudden end of China’s ban on Canadian pork and beef this week is cause for genuine relief in this country, but don’t unfasten your seatbelts yet, folks.
An extended period of severe turbulence lies ahead in Canada’s already bumpy relationship with the world’s second-biggest economy. The newly re-elected federal Liberals must be better prepared than in their first term to steer us through it.
It’s all well and good for Justin Trudeau to credit his appointment of Dominic Barton as Canada’s new ambassador to China as the reason China rescinded the ban. Perhaps a fresh, smiling Canadian face in Beijing was a factor in bringing to a halt a punitive, unjustified action that was seriously harming Canadian farmers.
But while no one should discount the prime minister’s efforts to repair those frayed Chinese relations, it’s also true that in this case hundreds of millions of hungry Chinese consumers acted as unintentional peacemakers.
The world’s largest pork producer, China recently witnessed the devastation of its pig herd by an outbreak of the fatal disease known as African swine flu. China’s need for Canadian pork during this crisis trumped its desire to bully Canada into giving way on a host of contentious matters.
And there are still plenty of other, unresolved tensions between the two countries tangled together in a knot that’s almost impossible to untie. Canada’s relations with the Asian behemoth hit the skids last December when Canadian authorities arrested Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.
An angry China rejected Canada’s defence that it was legally bound by an extradition treaty to arrest Meng, who is wanted on fraud charges in the United States. Then, China retaliated with the arbitrary arrests of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michel Spavor, on bogus espionage charges.
Turning the vise on Canada further, China limited imports of canola and soybeans from this country before banning its pork and beef. Meanwhile, China made it clear the glacial relations might thaw — if Canada admits its errors and suspends Meng’s trial.
Now, even as the Liberals search for a reset in Chinese relations, the biggest elephant of all remains in the room. Huawei Technologies wants to help build the next generation of the internet in Canada, the 5G network.
China will be livid if Canada shuts the door to what’s considered to be China’s premier international company. But the U.S. is pressuring Canada to say no to Huawei, insisting it’s a security threat that can’t be trusted with sensitive information.
It will take more than a new Canadian ambassador in China to sort all this out. There is speculation Chrystia Freeland will be moved from the foreign affairs portfolio she managed so capably to take over the equally fraught job of improving intergovernmental relations within Canada. If so, Trudeau will need to find a new foreign affairs minister as skilled as Freeland.
There is much to dislike about China, including how it has bestowed dictatorial powers on its current leader, suppressed every attempt at democratic reform, bulked up its military muscles and cruelly incarcerated one million Muslims because of their faith.
Yet the world’s most populous nation is too big, too essential to the new, emerging world order for Canada not to engage it. How Trudeau manages all of these challenges in the coming months will be one of the first major tests of his new government, arguably as important as how he handles America’s Donald Trump.
We hope the past difficult year has broadened Trudeau’s understanding of China and that he is, consequently, a wiser if sadder PM.