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Canada should postpone banning Chinese communications giant Huawei’s use of 5G technology because the decision could complicate a fraught relationship with the superpower, says the former head of Canada’s spy agency.

Richard Fadden, who has also served as the national security adviser to prime ministers Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, said making a decision against the company now could further damage the relationship between the two countries. Relations between Canada and China have been strained since the December arrest of a leading executive at Huawei.

“You’re better off waiting a little bit because we are really at a very delicate point, and sometimes delaying is not a bad thing," Mr. Fadden said Tuesday during an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Mr. Fadden, who was the CSIS director from 2009 to 2013 and former deputy defence minister, has long opposed Huawei 5G access, citing security concerns. Canada is reviewing whether it should ban or limit Huawei from supplying 5G equipment to the Canadian wireless market given concerns the technology could enable China to spy on other countries.

Mr. Fadden was in Vancouver to speak to a public forum held by the Vancouver branch of the Canadian International Council.

During a wide-ranging interview, he talked about various threats to Canadian security, including terrorism from various parties, such as white supremacists, as well as concerns about Russia. He said relations with the country are more challenging in the short term while China is more of a long-term challenge.

Neither China nor Russia, he said, want to go to war. “Neither of them are stupid. What they do want is to fragment the West and to increase their influence on the international institutional arrangements and on their influence. It is fair for us to poke back, but we have to be careful about how we do it.”

Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou has been in custody in Vancouver since December as the United States seeks her extradition on charges related to the violation of sanctions on Iran. In the meantime, two Canadians in China have been taken into custody in retaliation. Another Canadian has also been sentenced to death following a retrial for a drug-smuggling offence.

In addition, China has banned Canadian canola-seed imports, claiming concerns about pests in samples – a measure that has affected farmers in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Mr. Fadden said he also expects further retaliation by China against Canada. Scenarios, he said, include China, for example, pulling some degree of investment from Vancouver, pulling Chinese nationals studying from Canadian universities, or limiting access by Chinese nationals to visiting Canada for tourism.

“I hope they do none of these, but, I think, if they choose to make their displeasure known, there are a variety of things they can do. They could do it to Canada because we are a middle power. They couldn’t do some of these things to the United States and get away with it,” he said.

He said there are no easy answers for dealing with China. “We need to be realistic. We’re dealing with an emergent superpower, which is spreading its wings and wants to make the point. It is a force to be reckoned with,” he added.

He said caution and quiet diplomacy may be the only options for expediting the release of Canadians held in custody. “I say this with the deepest of regret for those poor people. We’re going to have to be patient, and try not do anything to make it worse."

He said the federal government is doing the best it can under the circumstances. “I cannot imagine that if [Andrew] Scheer were the prime minister, he would be doing materially better,” said Mr. Fadden, referring to the federal Conservative leader.

“China is annoyed with us. They have all the levers. We do not have the strong support of our allies, and we’re stuck. I think [the federal government is] doing everything they can do and people who are calling on the government to resolve the issue, I think, are being impractical.”

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