The Crushing of Freedom in Hong Kong Needs a Stronger Response from Canada

July 7, 2020 Updated: July 7, 2020


The Canadian government has belatedly taken notice of the crushing of freedom in Hong Kong. And we’re against it, which actually is progress given our habitual stand on Chinese communism. But we still need a much more thorough rethink of what’s going on in the world and where we stand in it.

In announcing various measures in response to the Politburo’s new and oppressive “Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne said on July 3 that “Canada joins the international community in reiterating its serious concern at the passage of national security legislation for Hong Kong by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China.”

Of course, when I say he said these things I mean someone wrote a piece of paper saying he said them and someone else sent it to the press gallery. But it is the Canadian government position. At a press conference the same day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “Canada joins the international community in expressing its grave concern over the passage of national security legislation for Hong Kong by mainland China.” Notice anything? Right. It’s nearly verbatim.

It’s also pablum. One is tempted to make a “Yes Minister” comment about the real meaning of “expressing its grave concern.” It’s one step up from “monitoring the situation,” which means doing nothing. And we did take steps, including suspending our extradition treaty with Hong Kong. So let me instead finger that phrase “Canada joins the international community.”

What is this international community of which you speak? I have a strong aversion to this modern habit of referring to the “X community” or the “Y community” in all kinds of contexts, because it embodies a false collectivism that lumps people together on the basis of superficial characteristics where there is no commonality of views, interests, or anything else. But the “international community” is not merely a harmless self-deception of the sort Kurt Vonnegut had in mind when he coined the term “granfalloon” for pseudo-communities like “Hoosiers,” because thinking you’re part of some vast beneficial global collective is not innocent.

As my National Post colleague John Ivison cautioned, “Trudeau said Canada is joining the international community in expressing its growing concerns. That’s not strictly true. When the United Nations Human Rights Council took a vote, 53 countries supported China’s crackdown, while only 27 countries criticized the law.” However, Ivison added, “François-Philippe Champagne, the global affairs minister, said Canada is in good company criticizing the law, alongside a number of liberal democracies.”

Correct. If you look at the countries backing China and the ones criticizing it, you see exactly who you’d expect to see. Or at least who you’d expect to see if you were thinking clearly about international affairs, starting with Cuba reading the statement in favour and the U.K. reading the statement against. So we are in good company along with other liberal democracies. And in their company, we are… outnumbered by gloating enemies.

The Global Times, an English-language puppet of the People’s Daily, chortled that “A total of 53 countries supported China’s national security law for Hong Kong at the 44th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on Tuesday, triumphing over 27 members that attacked and called for harsh measures against China… The landslide victory was seen by experts as showing that China’s achievements in human rights have won more supporters and become known by wider audiences. The double standards of some Western countries that tried to politicize the UNHRC and to use human rights-related issues as weapons to attack China, brought themselves more criticism within the international community.”

Absurd? Sure. But also true. Such paragons of human rights as Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and North Korea backed China, along with a bunch of its soon-to-be-wholly-owned African subsidiaries. And they outnumbered the critical outcasts like Australia, Belgium, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. (The United States isn’t on the list as it stomped out of the UNHRC in disgust in 2018, one of those things Donald Trump shocked the establishment by getting right.)

Way back in middle of the 1st century BC Gaius Julius Caesar wrote in “The Conquest of Gaul” that “all men naturally love freedom and hate servitude.” Perhaps they do. I hope so. But his statement is by no means the same as saying that all people naturally live under freedom or have the political and cultural habits and institutions necessary to create and sustain it.

Freedom is fragile even in places with many centuries of self-government built on Magna Carta, and Caesar himself had ominous plans for the Roman Republic. In most of the world it just doesn’t exist, and the “international community” is dominated by tyrannies, autocracies, and kleptocracies.

I applaud Trudeau’s actions and his statement up to a point. But it should have added “and Satan will be lacing up his skates before we let Huawei into our 5G network” or the diplomatic equivalent, and that we’re doubling our military budget. Because he and those around him need to think more deeply. But my concern is his feeling of cozy certainty that we are the world.

We’re not. We are islands of liberty in a sea of tyranny. We are islands of honest government in a sea of mendacity. We are islands of prosperity in a sea of misery. And all these things are connected.

If Canada’s foreign policy is to make any sense and do any good, it must regain the unfashionable, judgmental, and somewhat less than multicultural or relativist insight that most of the world is badly governed and that most governments are enemies of freedom. They hate and fear it at home and sneer at it abroad. And once you stop believing in this comfy let’s-all-have-a-photo-op-then-a-banquet “international community” whose moral purity armours us against all possible threats, you realize we need more than just expressions of concern and even the useful small steps taken so far.

We need a robust military, strong alliances, bold deeds defended with clear words, and above all else an understanding that freedom is not free.

John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, and executive director of the Climate Discussion Nexus. His most recent documentary is “The Environment: A True Story.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.