John Robson: Time for Canada to Wake Up to the Chinese Threat

July 1, 2019 Updated: July 1, 2019

Foreign policy in democracies often happens in a place author Roy Rempel has called “dreamland.” We strut and posture, imagine a world without war, and pretend we don’t have enemies, often for years at a time. Then suddenly a loud noise disturbs our slumbers.

Canada hasn’t really faced a threat big enough to wake us up since the Soviet Union collapsed. So it’s mostly been fun and games annoying the Americans, ducking minor wars, saying the world needs more Canada, talking about peacekeeping, and so on. After 9/11 we fought long and hard in Afghanistan, but with barely a quarter the casualties of Korea. And once the Taliban were ousted in 2001, the place was a mess, not a threat.

Today, the misery in Venezuela is deplorable. But it’s far away and does not threaten the Panama Canal. On Iran, we’re still dreaming that it’s somebody else’s problem. But Saudi Arabia is troubling our slumbers.

Since our government regularly proclaims, for instance in a June 17 press release, that “Human rights are at the core of Canada’s foreign policy,” we’re tossing and turning, wondering what we should do, or can, about such a nasty ally.

If it even is an ally. The Saudi elite presents a weird mix of hedonistic decadence and Wahabi fanaticism, and it’s soothing to think the fanaticism is just a veil over the hedonism. But the reverse is more likely, especially given the harsh fundamentalism the Guardians of the Holy Places fund with oil money in mosques around the world, including Canada.

Still, China is the big one.

Our buddy, commercial partner, counterweight to America, and rich uncle is revealing itself as an aggressive bully. So we’re struggling to open our eyes and finally see that this communist dictatorship is not our ally at all. Not even in the “my enemy’s enemy” way Saudi Arabia might plausibly be.

From the South China Sea to Africa to global finance, from telling us to call Mt. Everest “Qomolangma” to announcing that it would “not allow” discussion of the Hong Kong protests at last week’s G20 meeting in Osaka, China is on the move. Or at least it thinks it is.

Because dictatorships shoot bearers of bad news, often in a public ceremony, they know surprisingly little of what is going on abroad or at home. They tend, including the Soviets and Nazis, to overestimate their own strength and underestimate the open societies—who, for all their apparent sloth, engage in honest rather than show-trial self-criticism and when they wake up, hit hard. (It took Imperial Japan more than 10 years of scheming to pull off the Pearl Harbor attack, and the United States just seven months to improvise a crippling response at Midway.) But their miscalculations are dangerous to us as well as them.

Some sing lullabies about how China is both unstoppable and manageable. Four years ago in the National Post I compared such advice to what Saruman tells Gandalf in “The Fellowship of the Ring”: “A new Power is rising. Against it the old allies and policies will not avail us at all. … Its victory is at hand; and there will be rich reward for those that aided it … the Wise, such as you and I, may with patience come at last to direct its courses…”

That the rewards available to politicians who bend their knee to Beijing does not bring disgrace on them is a disgrace on us. But there is no deflecting its purposes over time. When Britain handed over Hong Kong, I warned that one day China would be unable to tolerate freedom there regardless of the economic cost of repression. And I fear greatly for those whose courage has lately forced the tyrant to pause and think, but not to change its purposes. But for us to appease now from a “safe” distance just means resisting later from a worse position with fewer friends.

It is not clear what Canada can do when the storm breaks. Certainly, we cannot expect to prevail alone, and if the West founders, so shall we. But we should be ready to do our part, by rebuilding our military and above all our intellectual defences—starting by insisting that Huawei is a tentacle of the Chinese state and must be allowed no hold on our critical communications infrastructure.

Getting into bed with the Chinese regime isn’t a dream. It’s a nightmare.

John Robson is a documentary filmmaker, National Post columnist, contributing editor to the Dorchester Review, commentator-at-large with News Talk Radio 580 CFRA in Ottawa, 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.