The Woolwich Observer

Inquiry shows Ottawa must take China threat seriously


The Trudeau government has been far too blasé when it comes to foreign interferen­ce in Canadian elections (and likewise too soft on China in general), as clearly indicated in reporting from the Commission of Inquiry into Foreign Interferen­ce. A classified document released this week at the inquiry shows the Canadian Security Intelligen­ce Service briefed the Prime Minister’s Office about interferen­ce by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the two previous elections.

“We know that the PRC clandestin­ely and deceptivel­y interfered both in the 2019 and 2021 general elections,” reads the CSIS report from Feb. 21, 2023.

CSIS found the Chinese government was looking to support candidates it viewed as supportive of the regime or neutral, at least. In the 2021 election, that led to working against the Conservati­ves, which the authoritar­ian regime in China saw as anti-PRC in its platform statements.

“Until [foreign interferen­ce] is viewed as an existentia­l threat to Canadian democracy, and government­s forcefully and actively respond, these threats will persist,” the report notes.

We have to hope the Trudeau government takes the threats more seriously than has hitherto been the case.

From interferen­ce in the democratic process to the theft of intellectu­al property, there are a host of reasons for Canada – and the West – to curtail relations with China.

China’s human rights abuses, its aggressive militarism and interventi­onist policies make sanctions not only reasonable, but necessary. While the time to firewall China would have been decades ago before the Walmartiza­tion of offshore production began in earnest, it’s not too late to give the country the pariah treatment.

The reason little has been done to date are all financial: the people who profit from doing business with China have no interest in rocking the boat.

That’s unlikely to change dramatical­ly, but there are cracks in the resistance. Even the Trudeau government, happy to ignore political interferen­ce and the buying up of Canadian resources and properties by people and companies linked to the Chinese Communist Party, is having to act.

Of pressing concern is ever-growing evidence of China’s attempts to influence Canadian elections and politics directly, which compound propaganda and cyber-attack strategies.

China is attempting to inflict itself in underhande­d ways, not just in the West but globally. It’s also attempting to use its financial influence to woo other countries, especially those less enamoured with the West.

The US is already taking an increasing­ly hard line with Beijing. That’s seen in the likes of the Biden administra­tion’s policy of keeping higher-end technology out of Chinese hands, and with tighter controls on rare, vital minerals and supplies of that ilk. (Not only an economic boon to buy-American policies, but with national security in mind.)

Canada, too, has much room for improvemen­t. Blocking access to resources is an absolute must. Ownership exclusions, restrictio­n of access and removal from sensitive posts, in academia and beyond, are all musts if the threat is to be reduced.

Polls show Canadians want to see more action from Ottawa when it comes to addressing China’s abuses.

Ottawa has long been criticized for its handling of relations with China, particular­ly over refusal to block Chinese investment in Canadian companies, a particular problem for communist state-owned enterprise­s. Nor has the government done enough to block spying, corporate espionage and theft of intellectu­al property such as research – blocking foreign ownership, disbanding the likes of Confucius Institutes and expelling suspicious persons are all measures being recommende­d by those looking to counter the threats posed by China.

It’s long past time for Ottawa to play hardball.

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