Canada-China Committee Reconvenes as Fourth Canadian Citizen Sentenced to Death in China

August 7, 2020 Updated: August 25, 2020

The recently formed Special Committee on Canada-China Relations convened this week for the first time since COVID-19 put Canada on lockdown, just as a fourth Canadian citizen was sentenced to death in China.

Escalating tensions between the two countries and how the Canadian government has handled them was the subject of a hearing at the committee on Aug.6. 

Earlier that day, China sentenced Canadian citizen Xu Weihong to death on drug charges. Ye Jianhui was sentenced on Aug. 7—the fourth Canadian to be given the death penalty on drug charges in China since Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018. 

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, told the committee that since Meng’s arrest, Canada has entered a “China crisis”—starting with Beijing’s detainment of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor over 600 days ago in apparent retaliation for Meng’s arrest. The Huawei CFO is facing extradition to the United States on fraud charges over the company’s dealings with Iran. 

Beijing has also placed restrictions on various Canadian exports to China, including canola seed oil, in an apparent attempt to pressure Ottawa into releasing Meng, who is residing in one of her Vancouver mansions under a form of house arrest.

Mulroney said he had hoped the federal government would use the period of increased tensions to rethink Canada’s relationship with China and more realistically assess the Chinese regime’s strategy to suppress human rights domestically and exert economic and diplomatic blackmail to expand its influence on global affairs.

“But old approaches die hard,” he told the cross-parliamentary committee, which met virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

“It’s not clear that the government has completely given up the fiction that China is our friend, nor has it consistently summoned the courage to speak and act with integrity.”

Referring to a letter signed in June by former federal ministers, diplomats, and academics urging the government to release Meng in exchange for the freedom of Kovrig and Spavor, Mulroney said, “Powerfully placed Canadians continue to argue that if we appease China just one more time, all will be well.”

“Dangerous myopia” about China is also evident among provincial and municipal governments, he said, noting the Ontario city of Markham’s decision last year to raise the Chinese flag on that country’s national day.

“Something’s wrong here and it has to change. People need to remember that the ultimate objective of foreign policy is not to flatter, not to obscure inconvenient truths, but to advance and protect Canadian interests and values.”

Mulroney said he’s not suggesting Canada should provoke or insult China. But he said Canada should reduce its dependence on Chinese trade by working with allies to establish new supply chains in vulnerable sectors and launching trade diversification efforts.

Ottawa should also take steps to combat Chinese interference in this country, adopting something like Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Act, he said. The act requires any citizen who chooses to work for a foreign entity and former politicians and diplomats who do anything to share their expertise with a foreign country to publicly report their activities.

Two other former ambassadors to China, John McCallum and Robert Wright, declined the committee’s invitation to appear. Committee members voted unanimously to summon both men at a later date.

Dr. Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Tibetan Administration, spoke to the committee at length, outlining the threat the Chinese regime poses not only to Tibet but to the rest of the world.

“The challenge posed by the Chinese Communist Party is very serious,” he said. “Either we transform China or China will transform us.”

Sangay warned that some of tactics the CCP used to take control of Tibet—such as influencing elites and institutions to ensure Beijing-friendly positions on pivotal issues—are now commonplace around the world. 

“What happened in Tibet could happen to you,” he said.

“Elite co-optation—influencing politicians, influencing business people, intellectuals, media—all these things are taking place. Having travelled from Ottawa to Norway to Sweden to Australia, I see this over and over again.”

He cited the United Nations as an example of Beijing’s infiltration. China is the second-largest donor to the U.N. after the United States, and was recently appointed to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council despite being one of the world’s most prolific human rights abusers. 

Sangay warned that China hopes to use its influence to “restructure the United Nations” so that key Beijing-friendly positions can influence policy. 

“They are trying to redefine human rights,” he said. “And if that is to continue then the human rights that we knowrights [that] are considered keywill be diluted.” 

Since China’s appointment to the Human Rights Council in April, the regime has twice tried to deflect criticism on its human rights record at council sessions—once over the arbitrary detention of 1 million Uighurs in reeducation camps in Xinjiang, and during another session that saw delegates from Beijing disrupt a discussion on Hong Kong.

With files from the Canadian Press