Canada-China Committee Needed Now More Than Ever, Says Former Canadian Ambassador to China

June 6, 2020 Updated: June 6, 2020

A former Canadian ambassador to China is urging the federal government to reconvene the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, saying the committee is needed now more than ever.

David Mulroney is calling for the committee to return to work amid a rapidly cooling Canada-China relationship.

“Through its investigative work, the Committee has offered a public hearing for people who are critical of the kind of unthinking, “Comprehensive Engagement” strategy that has until recently dominated what little debate we’ve had about China policy,” he wrote in a commentary published on the Macdonald-Laurier Institute website titled “Open Memo to the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations.”

“From my perspective, the opportunity to be part of this critical conversation about how we promote and defend Canadian interests in the face of an increasingly assertive and, at times adversarial China is something not to be missed, nor is the chance to be of some small service on an issue of national importance.”

Currently a distinguished fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, Mulroney was originally scheduled to present before the committee on March 23; however, the meeting was postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last month, the Conservatives brought forward a motion to allow the special committee on Canada-China relations to resume in light of escalating tensions over Beijing’s national security law in Hong Kong, which has the potential to trample on rights and freedoms protected under the “one country, two systems” principle.

However, the Liberals, New Democrats, and Greens voted against the motion.

In his open letter, Mulroney points to the national security law, China’s detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and Beijing’s suppression of information relating to the virus outbreak and influence within the World Health Organization as examples of urgent issues that the committee could help address.

“Responding effectively to each of these examples of China’s assaults on a rules-based international system will require significant reserves of Canadian courage and resolve,” he said.

“We were once a country that was willing to face up to such challenges. We need to find that courage again.”

Mulroney also raised concerns over Canada’s tendency in recent years to ignore or downplay “China’s egregious human rights violations and long-standing efforts to undermine democracy,” citing a lack of support for persecuted groups such as Uighur Muslims and those seeking Taiwan independence.

Mulroney offers four suggestions that policy-makers should consider as they reframe their approach to China:

  1. Effective diplomacy should reveal the truth as it is imperative for the government to be truthful to Canadians.
  2. The aim for any truly significant review is not just for policy clarity, but for coherence and coordination in its delivery. The ambassador must also be clearly and carefully aligned with the changing government policy.
  3. There will be no profound or purposeful China policy change if it is not owned or led by the Prime Minister.
  4. Protecting Canada’s interests will come with its costs and risks, however, failing to do so will be even more costly.

“We don’t need to insult or provoke China,” Mulroney said, “but we do need a China policy that is smarter, much more selective, more honest, and, frankly, more courageous.”