PM must solve his Chi­nese puz­zle

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Opinion -

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.

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