Dec. 10 marks the second anniversary of the abduction and imprisonment of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig by the Chinese Communist Party in response to Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wangzhou. This will be yet another Christmas the two Canadians will spend in a cell.
The anniversary also is a cause for reflection on how drastically the dynamic of our relationship with China has been changed by this and subsequent events.
The role of Huawei in Canada’s 5G networks has become one of the central national security debates, particularly in relation to Chinese infiltration of our democracy and the protection of our intelligence and data. Though Huawei’s executives have repeatedly claimed that it is a private company that can work independently of the Chinese Communist Party, it has little choice but to comply with any request made by the CCP for data. This is per the National Intelligence Law of 2017, which states that companies like Huawei have to “support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work.”
Huawei has also prospered with Beijing’s support, and was founded by a former People’s Liberation Army officer. Beijing’s lashing out at Canada over Meng’s arrest and the extent it’s willing to go to in destroying diplomatic relations with Canada in order to have Meng released and pursue Huawei’s interests also makes obvious the links between Huawei and the CCP.
In connection to this, however one wants to judge the Trump administration, one of the legacies of his government is reorienting the perception of China in the United States and among allies.
In May 2019, President Trump issued an executive order (which he extended this May) barring American companies from using telecommunications equipment from companies deemed a possible security risk. As the competition with China has intensified and the reality of what the West is contending with has become obvious, Washington has also been exerting pressure on allies to ban Huawei. While Canada’s allies in the Five Eyes, for example, have all made decisions or are looking into disallowing or limiting Huawei’s access in some way, Ottawa has not made a decision yet and says the issue is still under review.
Indeed, this has been something of a theme. The events of the last few years notwithstanding—let alone everything that has occurred this year—Canada remains an outlier on the China question, as our allies have fully accepted that the CCP is not a “responsible stakeholder” in the international order and is instead a malign actor. In this light, many have modified parts of their policy toward Beijing as is necessary.
For Canadians, the capture of the two Michaels has painted a picture of a ruthless regime that is not the well-meaning trade partner for which politicians routinely expressed admiration. Making this now indisputable to Canadians and the reasonable actors in the international community has been the pandemic, which has put the CCP’s true maliciousness front and centre with its initial coverup of COVID-19 and malevolent bullying of other countries throughout the course of the pandemic.
This series of events has been the impetus for a widening chasm between Canadian public opinion of China and government policy. New polling released by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute indicates that Canadians are interested in debates around Canada’s role in the world, and are unsatisfied with current policy—particularly toward China, who they increasingly see as an adversary to Canada. As the polling shows, 72 percent of Canadians believe that Canada should be influential on the international stage, and a significant majority of 73 percent hold a negative view of China.
These results illustrate a picture of Canadians who have a more cogent idea of how foreign policy should be practiced than politicians give them credit for—and highlights the flaws of the current policy.
Public statements over the second half of this year provided reason for optimism that the Canadian government was revisiting its policy toward the CCP and moving it away from an overtly accommodating posture to one more confrontational and assertive. However, recent statements from Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and coinciding events have suggested that such optimism may be misplaced, as Canada’s strategy with China appears dangerously incoherent, alternating back and forth between “talking tough” and promising a new approach and then clinging to naive orthodoxies, depending on the context of the situation.
Champagne’s office rightly condemned China’s foreign ministry for its scandalous attempt at disinformation against the Australian government when its spokesman posted a digitally altered photo of an Australian soldier with a knife to an Afghan child’s throat. Champagne’s press secretary condemned the “dissemination of such inflammatory material and disinformation” as “beneath the standards of diplomatic conduct.”
But just before that, during testimony to the parliamentary committee for Canada-China relations, Champagne argued that Ottawa’s policy must not be so tough-minded as to sacrifice prudent judgment, citing China’s “economic power” and its so-called momentous role in the fight against climate change. “Let’s not fall into the temptation of tough and irresponsible rhetoric that will generate no tangible results” when it comes to Kovrig and Spavor, farmers, and human rights, he said. Such a remark would hold more weight if the minister could offer any evidence of how the current policy has shown any favourable results for Canadians.
The imbroglio around vaccines serves as one example of how Ottawa’s enthusiasm for partnerships with Beijing undermines Canadian security. As Global reporter Sam Cooper outlines in a new deep dive, the top executives of CanSino, the company with which Canada was collaborating on a vaccine, were involved with a CCP program that entailed transferring research to China in exchange for financial benefits including funding and salaries. Ultimately, the partnership folded because the Chinese failed to deliver the vaccine for testing, and experts in the intelligence community are saying this is in line with Beijing’s broader espionage campaign, as the knowledge gained from those involved in such programs could benefit the Chinese military and security apparatus.
There are discernible business and political interests that might motivate this lack of a clear stance on China, but it also could be ascribed to an impulse among some policy-makers to develop rational explanations for behaviour and discount the influence of ideology on an entity like the Chinese Communist Party.
In the latter days of World War Two, during deliberations among the Allied powers over the post-war settlement for Europe, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt also suffered from naivete when it came to the professed motivations of communist despot Joseph Stalin, particularly his “security interests” in Eastern Europe.
Then-diplomat and White House interpreter Charles Bohlen identified this blind spot in Roosevelt’s perception of Stalin, saying Roosevelt was convinced that Stalin’s animosity was driven by “the neglect that Soviet Russia had suffered at the hands of other countries for years after the [Russian] Revolution.”
“What he did not understand was that Stalin’s enmity was based on profound ideological convictions,” Bohlen observed, according to Robert Gellately’s book “Stalin’s Curse.”
This blind spot is evident in what has been Canada’s approach to China up to this point. It isn’t clear that members of government understand that the CCP’s worldview makes it habitually aggressive toward democracies. Foreign policy toward China at this juncture still appears somewhat rooted in concerns about “isolating China,” and rediscovering “shared” economic interests.
Circumstances are dire. Ottawa needs to put forth a fresh strategic vision rooted in self-confidence and a sober assessment of the shifts in the international order. Otherwise, Canada will always be caught by surprise and won’t be prepared to respond to crises and challenges in the coming years.
Shane Miller is a political writer based in London, Ontario. Follow him at @Miller_Shane94.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.