Canadians have turned blind eye to China too long
Most Canadians are rightly perplexed by high-level concern over the relationship between the Huawei affair, the legitimate apprehension of a key Chinese person of interest in that affair, and the subsequent seizure of two Canadians by Chinese authorities under extremely dubious circumstances.
Then we learn these men are being held under conditions that would be considered torture by most Canadians. Furthermore, it is revealed, Chinese warplanes have harassed unarmed Canadian patrol aircraft in the region. Why, then, is it so difficult to conceptualize China as a threat to Canadian interests and values and take action to demonstrate our concern?
In effect, I would suggest that most Canadians are philosophically disabled from contextualizing this latest threat.
There are two reasons for this. First, the current Canadian climate regarding divisive racial issues generates a chilling effect on criticism of any state that is at first glance monocultural and not European (tut-tutting about Saudi Arabia doesn’t count as real criticism). Canadians’ laudable willingness to embrace inclusivity and the desire to be seen by others in the international community as “nice” and “not American” helps downplay such criticism generally.
The second reason is that our education systems distort Canada’s historical relationship with the People’s Republic of China, if they discuss it at all beyond the exploitation of Chinese labour to build railways in British Columbia.
The reality of the situation is this: Canada fought a United Nations-sanctioned war against the forces of the People’s Republic of China. In doing so, we incurred four times as many dead as we lost in Afghanistan. China waged aggressive war against a pitifully weaker Asian state on behalf of North Korea, supported from the air by Soviet pilots in their MiGs (who weren’t supposed to be there either).
How many classrooms across Canada explain to their students what “Korea 1950-1953” is doing on the National War Memorial? They certainly know about Vimy, but what about Kapyong? Or The Jamestown Line? And how many classrooms in Quebec teach that 25 Canadian Infantry Brigade included 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment, standing shoulder to shoulder with their Anglophone and Indigenous brothers, fending off Chinese human wave attacks with flamethrowers?
Canadians have been over the years bombarded with the Holocaust via education and popular culture, and rightly so. But the liquidation of five million Chinese by Mao Zedong and his government in 1949 to consolidate the Chinese revolution is never mentioned in Canada. Nor, for example, is the extensive work done by historian Frank Dikötter in which he catalogues the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Dikötter suggests that the body count could be as high as 45 million people. Chinese sources suggest it is even higher than that.
Forty-five million people. We are dealing with a country that murdered or otherwise let die something greater than the population of Canada. And in our living memory, not through black and white photos from the increasingly distant 1940s. And this is not taught in our schools? This is not the context to the China we deal with today when the prime minister lectures China on civil rights?
But, the apologists argue, that was in the 1960s. Things have evolved. Well, certainly they did. Let us look at the 1970s, when a Maoist-inspired movement called the Khmer Rouge eliminated a couple million of its “class enemies” to generate “year zero” for Cambodia. Then the 1980s: In the euphoria of the collapse of the Berlin Wall after a 40-year nuclear standoff, tanks of the People’s Liberation Army moved into Tiananmen Square and liberated the souls of ... how many, exactly? We don’t know for sure, as CNN removed its cameras.
If you are outraged by Nazi concentration camps, why are you not outraged by BBC revelations on Chinese concentration camps for “re-educating ” the Uighurs? Time to get woke, Canada.
Sean M. Maloney , PhD, is a professor of history at the Royal Military College