In the early morning of Oct. 8, 1970, as Chairman Mao Zedong got wind that his diplomats had reached an agreement with the Canadian delegation on the terms of establishing diplomatic relations, he reportedly laughed and said, “Now we have made a friend in the backyard of America!”
Thus began a relationship that brought the Chinese communist regime out of isolation, paving the way for other Western governments to establish ties with Beijing and for the regime to secure a seat in the United Nations and other multilateral organizations crucial to its growth.
Chen WenZhao, a former Chinese consul-general in Toronto who relayed the story about Mao’s reaction at an event on China-Canada relations in Shanghai in 2010, explained that Mao had dubbed developed countries such as Canada and European nations as “large swathes of middle ground” between his regime and the United States.
“As China needed to expand the anti-hegemony [anti-U.S.] reunion united front, we had to strengthen the relations with ‘middle ground’ countries,” Chen said.
Almost half a century later and a decade after the speech by Chen, his peers fear no repercussions when lecturing Canada on how it should behave.
In a recent press conference, China’s new ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, warned Ottawa not to follow U.S. lawmakers’ lead in creating legislation to sanction Chinese officials over the Hong Kong crackdown. He added that Canada should denounce the pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
Cong’s predecessor, Lu Shaye, had called Canada and its Western allies white supremacists for asking for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Canadian citizens who have been incarcerated in China for almost a year following Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
While some have said diplomats making such statements should be expelled, the ambassadors have gone unchallenged by Canada’s leaders.
Commenting on China’s technological rise and intellectual property theft, U.S. Senator Jim Risch said on Nov. 22 at the Halifax International Security Forum—where China’s rise was the main topic of discussion—that the average person can’t help but wonder “how did they [China] get here?”
The same question can be asked about the communist regime’s rise to become an existential threat to Western democracies, as characterized by former U.S. national security advisor H.R. McMaster in a Munk debate in May.
There are many ways that Canada contributed to this rise.
Ottawa’s Hand Up
Shortly after winning the federal election in 1968, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau remarked on the need for world recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) multiple times. According to Mei Ping, China’s former ambassador to Canada, Beijing took note.
“[The Chinese foreign ministry] sent cables to all our diplomatic missions abroad asking them to watch out and report immediately if they are approached by Canadian diplomats,” Mei said at the event in Shanghai in 2010.
In his talk at the same event, Chen made reference to Pierre Trudeau’s trip to China as a young man, adding that he was “ideologically leftist and as a result blacklisted and denied entry by the U.S.” The ban was later removed after he made an appeal.
“After taking office, he intended to distance himself from the U.S. on China policy. He made it public that Canada would do something that the U.S. didn’t agree or like to do and used the analogy of touching the tail of the tiger,” Chen said.
Diplomatic relations between Ottawa and Beijing began after Canada relented on recognizing the PRC as the legitimate government of China and effectively suspended diplomatic relations with the regime’s rival, the Kuomintang in Taiwan.
With Canada’s help, the PRC got a seat at the United Nations General Assembly in 1971, and many other Western countries started establishing their own relations with the regime.
“The … list of countries establishing diplomatic relations with China expanded rapidly, and so did the international standing of China,” Chen said.
Besides helping China join other major international bodies, Canada went on to help China’s development with foreign aid via both bilateral and multilateral channels. Canadian taxpayers’ money poured into China by the millions each year through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and international agencies such as various U.N. bodies.
In 2001, Canadian taxpayers gave close to $70 million in aid to China. The same year, China spent close to US$30 billion on its military, maintaining its position among the top five military spenders in the world. Canada’s military spending was about US$8 billion.
Canada also helped China develop its science and technology programs beginning in the 1980s, bringing Chinese scientists and engineers to Canada for training and sending Canadian specialists to China to help improve the Chinese higher education system. Canada sold China nuclear reactors and helped in developing the country’s infrastructure.
A critical milestone for the Chinese regime was achieved in 2001 when it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) with the backing of U.S. President Bill Clinton. This set China on the path of maintaining years of trade deficits in its favour with many countries, including Canada and the United States. It helped China build up its foreign reserves and boost its economy, while costing millions of jobs in the United States and Canada as manufacturers relocated to China to take advantage of cheaper labour.
According to a 2018 study by the Economic Policy Institute, between 2001 and 2017, the United States lost 3.4 million jobs as a result of China’s acceptance into the WTO. A 2017 report by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards found that between 2001 and 2011, Canada lost 150,000–170,000 jobs due to increased Chinese imports. Another report in the same year by the Broadbent Institute said Canada has lost close to 550,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000.
Both Clinton and Canada’s prime minister at the time, Jean Chrétien, sold the idea of China’s inclusion in the WTO on the expressed hope that linking China closer to Western economies would improve the rule of law in China and help turn the regime—which just 12 years earlier had slaughtered pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square—toward allowing more freedom for the Chinese people.
“WTO accession is part of China’s broad agenda of developing the rule of law, to ensure fair and equal treatment before the courts for both people and companies,” Chrétien said at the time.
Although China enjoyed the removal of barriers to world trade by joining the WTO, it didn’t afford the same advantage in many cases to foreign players. The 2019 annual report by the American Chamber of Commerce in China said American businesses are still yearning for a level playing field in the country and are asking Beijing to honour investment reciprocity.
In 2017, Canada invested $250 million in the regime’s vanity project, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIP), a multilateral development bank to rival the Asian Development Fund and the World Bank.
China is now the world’s second-largest economy and has the second-highest military spending in the world, after the United States.
Beijing has increased its military presence in its backyard in Asia and as far away as in Africa and Latin America, and it’s throwing its weight against its smaller neighbours on territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Kovrig and Spavor remain behind bars, and Beijing continues to block Canada’s canola imports against WTO rules, according to Ottawa. Inside China, millions of people, including Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Falun Gong adherents, Tibetans, and Christians continue to face persecution, death, and even forced organ harvesting, and the Beijing-backed government in Hong Kong is violently cracking down on pro-democracy protesters.
Beijing uses its united front agency to control Chinese living in Canada, setting up community groups to uphold its position on issues it deems important. CBC reports that according to Canadian intelligence officials, China is actively using members of the Chinese community it trusts to run for election. Australian media revealed this week that the country’s intelligence agencies are investigating allegations of a plot by Beijing to install a spy in the Australian Parliament.
In August, when Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign affairs minister at the time, signed a joint statement with the European Union to raise concerns about the violence in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities singled her out by name, with a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson condemning her in an unusual personal rebuke on state television, The Globe and Mail reported. Canada’s past goodwill with Beijing did little to garner any beneficial treatment, as the spokesperson made no mention of Freeland’s European counterpart who also signed the statement.
A day after the official’s rebuke of Freeland, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began a speech on China by saying Canada has deep ties with the Chinese people, saying later in the speech that Canada will always “defend Canadians and Canadian interests.” In the same speech, he spoke about Russia, saying Canada opposes Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney noted the contrast between Trudeau’s comments on China and Russia in an interview with the Globe.
“It is therefore quite jarring to come upon the China section, which opens with bizarrely warm and friendly sentiments, talks about economic opportunities rather than China’s actual economic blackmail of Canada,” Mulroney said.
Emily Lau, a former member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council who was in Canada over the weekend to attend the Halifax International Security Forum, advises Trudeau to adopt a different tone when addressing China.
“[If] there is one thing that China looks down on, [it’s] people who are too timid,” she told Global News, urging the prime minister to “stand up and speak out” to China.
In the early years of Trudeau’s first term as prime minister, before the latest Ottawa-Beijing diplomatic row over Meng’s arrest erupted and as his government was actively trying to develop warmer relations with Beijing, he seemed convinced that China would soon surpass the United States as the world’s number one economy.
“The issue is more how we can get the attention of the country that will soon have Earth’s largest economy when the rest of the world has been working to develop relationships,” Trudeau said in 2016.
It’s not American citizens that China imprisoned following Meng’s arrest, even though it was the United States that asked for her arrest on Canadian soil. If China were to surpass the United States in might, as it has Canada, would that change? And between the two adversaries that Pierre Trudeau set out to establish relations with the way he saw fit, one a rule-of-law-based democracy and the other a communist totalitarian regime, which one is currently holding Canadian citizens hostage?
With all that has transpired between China and Canada in the months since Meng’s arrest, and in the broader global context of China’s behaviour on the world stage after decades of the West catering to Beijing and welcoming the regime into major multilateral initiatives, it’s worth pondering whether Ottawa will now re-evaluate its China policy.
Richard Fadden, a former national security adviser to prime ministers, said recently that Canada should start seeing both China and Russia as adversaries.
But Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, who turned heads with his attendance at an event celebrating the founding of the PRC in Vancouver in September, said during his address at the Halifax International Security Forum that he doesn’t consider China an adversary.
After Trudeau announced his new cabinet on Nov. 20, an NTD Television reporter asked him whether he will reshape Canada’s China policy given China’s aggression toward Canada and the fact that the latest polls show the overwhelming majority of Canadians hold a negative view of China.
Trudeau responded by noting China’s economic influence in the world and business opportunities for Canada, and added that his government will follow Canadians’ wish for Ottawa to “stand up for our values and our rights.”
“We have condemned the arbitrary detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, and we’re continuing to … demonstrate that we will stand up for our interests as a country, we will engage with the world in a constructive and positive way, and we will at the same time ensure that we are looking for opportunities for Canadians,” Trudeau said.
It’s fair to say the reporter’s question was left unanswered.
With files from The Canadian Press
An earlier version of this article misstated the country associated with a job loss number. In fact, the United States lost 3.4 million jobs between 2001 and 2017 as a result of China’s acceptance into the WTO, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute. Canada lost 150,000–170,000 jobs due to increased Chinese imports between 2001 and 2011, according to a 2017 report by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards. And Canada has lost close to 550,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000, according to another report in the same year by the Broadbent Institute. The Epoch Times regrets the error.