O’Toole: ‘We Need a New Approach’ on China

March 11, 2021 Updated: March 11, 2021

Two decades ago, the Western world brought China into the rules-based trading system of the World Trade Organization, the argument being that helping China develop economically would entice the communist regime to respect human rights and the rule of law.

“We’ve been wrong,” Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole told The Epoch Times in an interview.

“Whether it’s trade practices … whether it’s Hong Kong and the situation with the Uyghurs, whether it’s the South China Sea, intellectual property theft, we cannot allow a country to benefit from the rules-based system where values of human rights are respected, but actually not practice those values themselves.”

Observers have noted that since joining the WTO in 2001, China has significantly ramped up its exports but has flouted trade rules and prevented reciprocal access to its market to other countries.

The American Chamber of Commerce in China said in its 2019 annual report that American businesses are still asking for a level playing field in China, and want Beijing to respect investment reciprocity.

According to a 2017 report by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, between 2001 and 2011, Canada lost 150,000 to 170,000 jobs due to increased Chinese imports. Another 2017 report by the  Broadbent Institute said Canada has lost close to 550,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000. In the United States, the Economic Policy Institute said in a 2018 report that because of China’s acceptance into the WTO, the United States has lost 3.4 million jobs between 2001 and 2017.

The Beijing regime has also continued its human rights transgressions in mainland China, and is now restricting democratic rights in Hong Kong.

“We have to readjust our approach,” O’Toole says, noting that the concern is not “with China or the Chinese” people, but with the way “the Chinese Communist Party conducts itself.”

Human Rights

In a 266-0 vote in the House of Commons last month, MPs voted to declare Beijing’s oppression of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in China a genocide.

Numerous human rights bodies have documented cases of torture, killing, sexual harassments, forced abortions, and imprisonment of ethnic and religious groups in China.

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who previously led the prosecution of former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal, is currently overseeing an independent tribunal in England to investigate the Chinese regime’s persecution of Uyghurs. An independent tribunal he previously chaired concluded in 2019 that there was clear evidence that forced organ harvesting of adherents of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong has been taking place in China.

Human Rights Watch reports that China continues to severely restrict freedom of speech and assembly in Tibet, while imprisoning Christians who attend underground churches.

In recent years, Beijing has also increased its crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong. Last year, the regime’s rubber stamp legislature passed a new national security law that gives the communist regime more enforcement power in Hong Kong, and introduces tough punishments for vague charges associated with terrorism and “collusion with foreign forces.”

“It’s been terrible to see the decline now into a police state in Hong Kong, a total erosion of the ‘one country two systems’ agreement,” O’Toole said, referring to the framework agreed between China and the UK when Hong Kong was handed over to Beijing in 1997. The agreement allows Hong Kong a degree of autonomy from Beijing.

“We would like to see the democratic rights that were guaranteed in that agreement reasserted for Hong Kongers,” O’Toole said, adding that Canada should help provide asylum to Hong Kong democracy activists fleeing persecution “to make sure that those voices aren’t extinguished by the police state.”

As for the next steps now that the House of Commons has declared Beijing’s treatment of Uyghurs a genocide, O’Toole says he would like to see the government recognize the designation and take action. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet abstained from voting on the motion, but allowed other Liberal MPs to vote.

“[We would like the government to] work with other allies to raise awareness here, and to look to potentially a number of trade and other sanctions to highlight the international community’s strong condemnation of a genocide that’s happening in Xinjiang,” he said, referring to the northwestern Chinese region where the majority of China’s Uyghur population live.


O’Toole says there should also be coordinated enforcement with allies to prevent the flow of fentanyl into Canada, which is fuelling a deadly opioid crisis.

“There’s a fear that the Chinese communist state is turning a blind eye to some of this, this trade and trafficking,” he says.

“Investigation has to be key. We’ve said restricting access to exporters that have been found to have had illegal opioids, illegal drugs in their shipments, should be step one, and then potentially sanctions against the port facility where these originate, could be something we co-ordinate with the United States on.”

New Approach

O’Toole says Canada is currently out of step with other allies in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance when it comes to dealing with China, pointing to Ottawa’s lack of a decision on whether to use Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s equipment in Canada’s 5G network as an example.

Three out of five of Canada’s allies in the alliance—the United States, Australia, and New Zealand—have already ruled out using Huawei in their 5G networks, and the UK has set a plan to phase out the company from its 5G network.

“Mr. Trudeau himself needs to wake up to this,” O’Toole says. “There’s an emerging consensus in particularly the Five Eyes groups of countries that we need a new approach with respect to China.”

Follow Omid on Twitter: @OGhoreishi