Time to push back against China

Canada will ben­e­fit from strik­ing now rather than later on the Huawei ban


Just the other day, I was out for lunch with a se­nior pub­lic pol­icy ad­vi­sor and the con­ver­sa­tion to drifted to how odd it is that for decades suc­ces­sive Cana­dian gov­ern­ments have been so en­am­oured with cozy­ing up to the Chi­nese lead­er­ship in Bei­jing.

Then, right at that mo­ment, a for­mer se­nior cab­i­net min­is­ter walked into the restau­rant in­ex­pli­ca­bly wear­ing a tra­di­tional Chi­nese-style out­fit. We did a dou­ble take. The tim­ing was straight out of a sit­com.

I don’t know what the story was be­hind the fash­ion choice but the vis­ual — an elder states­men of Cana­dian pol­i­tics dressed in Chi­nese fash­ion, like some sort of sol­i­dar­ity ges­ture, right as their gov­ern­ment is try­ing to turn the screws on us — was sure some­thing.

There’s a lot of hand­wring­ing go­ing on right now in po­lit­i­cal, busi­ness and aca­demic cir­cles about how the Canadachina re­la­tion­ship is be­com­ing dam­aged. This is in part be­cause there’s a lot of Chi­nese money in po­lit­i­cal, busi­ness and aca­demic cir­cles. Some of the da­m­age con­trol at­ti­tude go­ing on right now is about peo­ple pro­tect­ing their self-in­ter­ests.

But it’s also be­cause the old think­ing from the 1990s wrongly as­sumed that af­ter China joined the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion and opened it­self more to the world it wouldn’t be that far away from be­com­ing a Western­style, lib­eral demo­cratic coun­try just like ours.

That didn’t happen. China is still a sin­gle-party coun­try led by the Com­mu­nists and current leader Xi Jin­ping’s hold on power has been de­scribed as the great­est since Chairman Mao.

So let’s say Canada doesn’t suc­ceed in cool­ing things down.

Let’s say the re­la­tion­ship con­tin­ues to go frosty.

How bad could it all get?

Maybe Bei­jing will try to stop its wealthy from buy­ing real es­tate in Van­cou­ver. Maybe its state-owned en­ter­prises will stop try­ing to buy up our com­pa­nies and nat­u­ral re­sources.

Maybe Huawei will slow its in­vest­ments in the Cana­dian tele­com mar­ket. Maybe we’ll get the cold shoulder from the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank, a Chi­nese project that we’ve signed up for against the urges of the U.S. that seeks to ri­val the IMF and the World Bank for dom­i­nance over world fi­nance.

Let’s say all of these things happen. Can any­one tell me why this would be a bad thing?

If we ad­vance our re­la­tion­ship with Bei­jing in a way that works for us and is con­sis­tent with our vi­sion of what we want the world to look like in the decades to come, so be it. That’s not how things have been shap­ing up though.

In­stead of be­com­ing more like us, the long-term strat­egy for the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is to bring the rest of us all fur­ther into its sphere of in­flu­ence. It’s what they’re ag­gres­sively do­ing right now to coun­tries in Eastern Europe, Africa and else­where.

Does any­one in Canada se­ri­ously want any part of this? Hope­fully not. And yet we’re cur­rently act­ing like deer frozen in the head­lights, too par­a­lyzed to act, while China keeps mount­ing its of­fence.

Af­ter we ar­rested Huawei ex­ec­u­tive Meng Wanzhou at the re­quest of the U.S., China ar­rested not one but two Cana­di­ans in re­tal­i­a­tion. That’s al­ready a sign that they’re not look­ing to match us but one up us.

Then just the other day its am­bas­sador to Canada, Lu Shaye, penned an ar­ti­cle in The Hill Times ac­cus­ing us of “Western ego­tism” and “white supremacy” be­cause we’re call­ing for the re­lease of our de­tainees.

The nerve of it. The story has al­ready been shared around the world, in­clud­ing by Chi­nese news out­lets. The men in Bei­jing are try­ing to both put us on the de­fen­sive and frame the nar­ra­tive.

Pro­voke a re­ac­tion

Now I get that these sorts of things are meant to pro­voke a re­ac­tion from us so, one might ar­gue, why play into their hands? But some in­sults just can’t be left to fes­ter.

Af­ter Canada first de­tained Meng, our Am­bas­sador to China John Mc­cal­lum was sum­moned to ap­pear be­fore Chi­nese Vice For­eign Min­is­ter Le Yucheng to an­swer for our sup­posed wrong­do­ings. Let’s do a tit­for-tat here. Some­one in the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment needs to kindly in­vite Am­bas­sador Lu Shaye over to tell him face-to-face that we’ll have no more of his non­sense, thank you very much.

But let’s get to the real thing that needs ad­dress­ing: The Huawei ban.

On Fri­day, a Chi­nese man­ager at Huawei’s Poland of­fices was ar­rested and charged with spy­ing on Poland on be­half of China. This is ex­actly the sort of thing that makes ex­perts around the world urge Canada to fol­low suit with its in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing al­lies and ban Huawei from hav­ing any­thing to do with build­ing the in­fra­struc­ture around our new gen­er­a­tion 5G telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions grid. There are very se­ri­ous ac­cu­sa­tions out there that Huawei en­gages in es­pi­onage on be­half of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment (which the com­pany rou­tinely de­nies).

It seems all but in­evitable that this ban will now happen, given how poi­soned the well has be­come. So what’s the hold up?

Con­ven­tional po­lit­i­cal wis­dom is that we wait un­til all of this has passed and then on, say, a Fri­day in the sum­mer we qui­etly an­nounce the ban, so it doesn’t look like we’re do­ing this for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons.

But this isn’t a con­ven­tional sit­u­a­tion.

And it’s cer­tainly not how they op­er­ate. In­stead of just pas­sively sit­ting around and wait­ing to see what Bei­jing does to us next, do­ing the ban sooner than later will send a clear sig­nal that we’re not go­ing to take any of it from them any­more.

And yet we’re cur­rently act­ing like deer frozen in the head­lights, too par­a­lyzed to act, while China keeps mount­ing its of­fence.


A mother and child walk past a TV in New Taipei City, show­ing China’s leader Xi Jin­ping mak­ing a speech.

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