With Canadian citizens arrested in China, the blocking of Canadian exports to China, and Canada’s “muted” response in the face of geopolitical aggressions and human rights abuses by Beijing, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute thinks the entity that had the most influence on public policy in Canada in 2019 was the Chinese regime.
“We’ve got the arrest of [Huawei executive] Meng Wanzhou in Canada, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor being held in detention in China, the issue of Huawei, and a series of other things such as [Canada’s stance on the] status of Taiwan, South China Sea,” said Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI).
“It’s also the things that we might have expected Canada to do in the normal course of things that it didn’t do, because it was afraid of what the reaction in China would be like.”
To put a face on the policy-maker of the year, MLI chose Xi Jinping, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party, since he is the “apex of the policy-making process” in China.
Every year, we name the person or institution that has had the greatest impact—for good or ill— on public policy as Canada’s Policy-Maker of the Year.
Read more here: https://t.co/F21LKzslu4
— Macdonald-Laurier Institute (@MLInstitute) December 12, 2019
Canada’s government, which has been pursuing closer relations with Beijing since the Liberals’ 2015 election win, has been on the receiving end of a series of threats from China since Meng was arrested in late 2018 on a U.S. extradition request.
Ottawa was threatened with “serious consequences” after Meng’s arrest shortly before Kovrig and Spavor were arrested in China, and the Chinese ambassador to Canada has warned Ottawa not to follow U.S. lawmakers’ lead in creating legislation to sanction Chinese officials over the Hong Kong crackdown.
“Canada is clearly soft-pedalling its traditional policy in a number of areas in order to avoid annoying Beijing,” Crowley says. As an example, he contrasts Ottawa’s response to Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine with Ottawa’s response to China.
In a speech in August, Trudeau said that “Russia’s aggression and illegal annexation of Crimea is completely unacceptable, and we will oppose it at every turn.” In the same speech, when it came to the topic of China, Trudeau first said “we recognize real economic opportunities for Canadians,” and added that “we’ve also had our share of disagreements.”
Canada’s former ambassador to China David Mulroney highlighted this contrast in tone toward China and Russia in an interview with The Globe and Mail at the time.
“[It is] 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 told the Globe.
Crowley says Canada’s response has also been “muted” on a number of human rights issues in China.
He notes that there are “a million Uighurs and Kazakhs detained in Western China,” there’s a “broad persecution on a really unbelievable scale of Falun Gong practitioners in China,” the suppression of Tibetans and their culture, and the crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors.
“You put all of these things together, and China is actually making policy in Canada, using Canadian policymakers, essentially, as their representative.”
Crowley says that while Canadians are becoming more concerned about the threat of China, the federal government is not taking appropriate action in the face of the bourgeoning threat.
Canada has been dragging its feet on whether to ban Huawei from its 5G network, despite pressure by its intelligence ally United States that the Chinese telecom giant would pose a security threat to the two countries’ alliance.
A recent online poll by the Angus Reid Institute showed that 69 percent of Canadians are against the inclusion of Huawei in the country’s 5G network.
Another poll by Nanos Research for the Globe showed that 90 percent of Canadians have a negative or somewhat negative view of China.
“I think the public is way ahead of the government. The government in Canada is still very much in thrall to a vision of China that is principally an economic opportunity, and they’re afraid to spoil that economic opportunity by worrying too much about China’s bad behaviour,” Crowley said.
“Canadians are saying appeasing China is clearly not the strategy that’s going to work, and we’re going to have to stiffen our backbone, and possibly even forego some economic opportunity, in order to make it clear that Canada and other Western countries will not allow China to cause us to back away from our commitment to our own values.”