Toronto Star

Yes, ‘respect’ is essential


The Chinese government’s official mouthpiece, Hua Chunying, got one thing right on Monday. Successful relationsh­ips between countries, she said, depend on “mutual respect.”

Too bad the regime she speaks for has shown exactly the opposite in its dealings with Canada and Canadians. Instead of respect, Beijing has treated this country with outright contempt.

It did just that when it arbitraril­y jailed two Canadian citizens — the “two Michaels” who are now mercifully home after 1,020 days — in retaliatio­n for extraditio­n procedures against the Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who is also back in her home country.

And it’s repeating the offence now by pretending with a straight face that the simultaneo­us release of Meng and the Michaels was just a convenient coincidenc­e, that the two cases weren’t connected at all.

That’s an insult to anyone’s intelligen­ce, yet it’s the Chinese government line and it’s sticking to it. You don’t lie so blatantly to someone’s face if you have any respect for them.

China has gone so far down this road that there’s little hope of rebuilding trust and mutual respect between Beijing and Ottawa any time soon. Canada has to face the truth: China under the government of President Xi Jinping doesn’t see us as worthy of respect, and well-meaning efforts to rebuild the relationsh­ip are doomed to failure for the foreseeabl­e future.

There’s an argument to be made that the extraditio­n procedures against Meng were badly flawed when the United States launched them back in 2018. Last week’s outcome, involving a deferred prosecutio­n agreement in which Meng did not admit guilt and paid no fine or penalty, lend credence to that version. The Biden administra­tion dropped its extraditio­n request and let her return to China.

But Beijing went nuclear against Canada when it seized Michael Kovrig and

Michael Spavor a few days after Meng’s arrest in Vancouver, and tossed them in jail on completely fabricated charges.

That was such a bad-faith move that

Ottawa had no choice but to let the extraditio­n process unfold in the courts over the past many months. Having the justice minister simply drop the case (as was possible under the law) would have amounted to caving to blatant hostagetak­ing by Beijing.

Even now, China has produced zero credible evidence that Kovrig and Spavor were engaged in any activities that endangered its national security, as it publicly claimed. The semi-official Global Times newspaper reported that the pair “confessed their guilt” for taking photos and videos of Chinese military equipment, but that has no credibilit­y at all. It was all trumped up, and everyone knows it.

Canada now can have no illusions about China, as long as the Xi government maintains its current path. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took an open, hopeful attitude toward China when he came to power, even visiting Beijing in 2017 in an attempt to launch talks on a comprehens­ive trade deal. But that all blew up in his face.

What changed was the Xi government’s attitude toward both internal dissent and the rest of the world. It has become much more aggressive on both fronts, cracking down on its Uyghur minority, bringing once-democratic Hong Kong to heel, and attempting to intimidate many of its Asian neighbours. Spitting in Canada’s face was part of all that.

The good news is the Meng-Michaels affair helped to galvanize internatio­nal opposition to Beijing’s aggressive­ness. Fifty-seven countries signed a declaratio­n organized by Canada against arbitrary detentions for diplomatic purposes. Others — such as the so-called “Quad” group of the U.S., India, Japan and Australia — are forging new alliances aimed at countering Beijing.

Canada can’t do much on its own. It can, and should, finally institute an official ban on Huawei from involvemen­t in building new 5G wireless networks, as our closest allies have done. But for the most part Canada will have to work with other countries alarmed by China’s new aggression.

One day, perhaps, a better relationsh­ip will be possible. But not before Beijing lives up to its nice words about showing respect.

China under the government of President Xi Jinping doesn’t see Canada as worthy of respect, and well-meaning efforts to rebuild the relationsh­ip are doomed to failure

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