Trade, China, and Consequences
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau concluded a visit to China recently, but it failed to launch anticipated negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). This appeared to result in part from his voicing of the Canadian commitment to the rule of law, a clean environment, media freedom, gender equality, and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Canadians who understand China’s economy were much relieved by the turn of events. Jonathan Manthorpe of Vancouver has described Beijing state capitalism as a variation of a Ponzi scheme: “A local government without a functioning system for raising tax revenue and riddled with corruption sells development land to garner cash (first getting rid of farmers living on the land)…the municipality has the power to instruct banks to lend the development company the money for the sale. So the local government gets its cash, the municipally-owned company gets to build a speculative residential or industrial complex, and all seems well.”
In 2008, New Zealand became the first advanced economy to enter into a FTA with China. Currently, Professor Anne-Marie Brady of the University of Canterbury in N.Z., a Mandarin speaker and expert on China, is urging her government to draft new laws to protect New Zealanders from “China’s covert, corrupting … coercive political influence activities (which) are now at a critical level…China’s efforts undermine the integrity of our political system, threaten our sovereignty, and directly affect the rights of Chinese New Zealanders to freedom of speech, association, and religion.”
The China-Australia FTA came into effect in 2015. By last June, Beijing’s meddling in Australia’s politics was so pronounced that an investigative report, “Power and Influence,” was published on the threat to Australian sovereignty. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull moved a week or so ago to ban foreign political donations, citing “disturbing reports about Chinese influence” on Australian politics.
Media pressure appears to have caused the recent resignation of Australian senator Sam Dastyari, who has close ties with a wealthy Chinese donor and had taken positions favouring the party-state. He was also reported to have sought unsuccessfully to pressure his party’s deputy leader not to meet a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist.
This pattern differs little elsewhere. In Europe, for example, Germany’s spy agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), reported that Beijing is using fake social media profiles seeking to infiltrate German politics and business. The BfV reported that nine months of research indicated that more than 10,000 German citizens had been contacted via LinkedIn by Chinese spies using fake profiles posing as consultants, head hunters, and scholars.
Many governments are troubled by a range of other problems resulting from any FTA signed with Beijing: their absence of rule of law and independent courts; restrictions on foreign enterprises operating within China; job losses and wage decreases for workers at home; lack of intellectual property protection; and above all “crony capitalism/Leninist governance.”
The Australian government in 2005 adopted a “positive engagement” approach on human rights abuses in its FTA negotiations. At the time, civil society was gradually developing in China with a rights movements and NGOs developing. Unfortunately, a crackdown on the media, spiritual communities, civil rights movements and the internet was re-launched in recent years, decimating the ranks of human rights lawyers and advocates.
Beijing’s record in keeping undertakings and respecting international agreements has waned in recent years. Last June, it declared that the joint declaration with Britain over Hong Kong was a historical document with no practical significance. It then “re-interpreted” Hong Kong’s Basic Law to disqualify elected pro-democracy legislators. It rejected in 2016 a ruling against itself in a case over disputed waters in the South China Sea when an international tribunal in The Hague came down in favor of claims by the Philippines.
Governments and citizens in Europe, Africa, and Asia are already being subjected to the long arms of Beijing. Canadians are not alone in fearing that any FTA with Beijing would jeopardize our core national values, including democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
Party-state tactics used in New Zealand and Australia, moreover, are already appearing in Canada. The Globe and Mail reports that since 2006 Canadian MPs and senators took 36 trips to China sponsored by the Chinese government or groups seeking business with Beijing.
The Trudeau government should instead focus to expand trade and investment vigorously elsewhere across the world, including Asia, especially with its rule-of-law democracies such as India, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.