Kenney Slams China’s Handling of COVID-19, Urges North American ‘Onshoring’

May 13, 2020 Updated: May 13, 2020

WASHINGTON—Alberta Premier Jason Kenney added his voice to the anti-China chorus Wednesday, savaging the communist republic’s handling of the earliest days of the COVID-19 outbreak and urging Canada and the United States to join forces in bringing manufacturing capacity back to North America.

The country will soon face a “great reckoning” for its efforts to play down, obfuscate and cover up the dangers posed by the novel coronavirus when it first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Kenney told a virtual roundtable hosted by the Washington-based Canadian American Business Council.

It also sought to sway the World Health Organization to prevent travel bans to and from outbreak hotspots and has refused to co-operate with the rest of the world’s efforts to get to the bottom of what happened, Kenney said.

“I think the Chinese government played a significant role in the devastating public health and economic damage that is being experienced by the entire world,” he said.

“And I do not think we should just forget this and walk past it. There must be some kind of a reckoning, there must be some accountability.”

The White House and legislators on Capitol Hill are reportedly exploring ways to punish China for what they consider a coverup, refusing to co-operate with the WHO and keeping the virus, as well as evidence of dangerous human-to-human transmission, under wraps for nearly a week after COVID-19 was first detected—allegations China strenuously denies.

Trump has indicated he intends to seek damages and impose retaliatory measures, even as his administration tries to preserve its efforts to secure a long-term trade deal—something long seen as critical to the president’s re-election hopes.

Kenney, for his part, said China’s refusal to co-operate should be a cue for both Canada and the U.S. to start “reshoring” important manufacturing capacity from the country, particularly for all-important medical supplies like face masks, respirators and ventilators, all of which were in short supply around the world at the height of the crisis.

“Western countries, including Canada and the United States, must have a reset in their relationship with China—and part of that reset, in my judgment, must be a deliberate effort to onshore production, particularly on critical supplies.”

Alberta’s petrochemical industry could be instrumental in helping to produce reagents, key elements in diagnostic testing, he added, “so we are not dependent on a country whose strategic interests are not completely aligned with our own.”

Indeed, Kenney made it clear that as the province reels from the one-two punch of an economic shutdown and historically low oil prices, he intends to make the United States a linchpin in his recovery plan.

Despite the state of the energy market, the Alberta government is proceeding with plans to resurrect the Keystone XL pipeline project, which is designed to move oilsands bitumen from the northern part of the province through the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

In a post-pandemic world where Canada and the U.S. are part of a single trading and security bloc, cross-border energy infrastructure will play a central role, he said.

“I think we have an opportunity now—Americans generally, like Canadians, are going to be more focused on economic growth and issues like energy security,” Kenney said.

“I think public opinion is going to be swinging more strongly in favour of critical energy infrastructure, and this is an opportunity for us to solidify political support in the United States, going into this election season, for Canada-U.S. energy infrastructure.”