Guy Saint-Jacques served as Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016.
The 11-year prison sentence handed to Michael Spavor is just the latest example of the ruthlessness of China’s efforts to put pressure on the Canadian government, and in turn on the U.S. administration, to return Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. As The Washington Post’s editorial board wrote on Aug. 13: “China’s kangaroo courts operate in service to the country’s Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping, whose contempt for international standards of law and justice is manifest.” As Times Wang outlined in The Globe last week, Canadians should refuse to recognize China’s “justice” system.
While a short-term resolution of the case can only come from Washington, it is not clear that U.S. President Joe Biden is ready to spend the political capital necessary to let Ms. Meng return to China. Of course, an elegant solution for both Ottawa and Washington would be if the judge presiding over the case were to decide after the extradition hearings conclude that Ms. Meng’s rights were not respected when she was arrested and orders her released.
In any case, detailed negotiations will still be required to guarantee the safe return of the two Michaels to Canada and, hopefully, a decision by the Chinese supreme court to cancel the death penalty against Robert Schellenberg, who was convicted of drug smuggling. And let’s not forget that we have three other Canadians sitting on death row in China with no consular access to other Canadians, including Xiao Jianhua and Huseyin Celil, both abducted abroad by China.
Ottawa needs to adopt a more robust strategy to counter China’s attack on international law and norms, as well as its interference and spying activities in Canada. The electoral campaign offers an opportunity to ask political parties how they envisage future relations with China.
Knowing China has used hostage diplomacy with increasing frequency in the past 15 years, and following the adoption of the Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention in State-to-States Relations in February, Canada should agree with its allies on a common strategy, including sanctions, that would be applied against China if it dares to take people hostage again.
To prevent China from weaponizing trade, as it did against us after the arrest of Ms. Meng and is doing now with Australia, and since some commodities come from a limited number of countries, Canada should propose to the United States and Australia to conclude an agreement that no signatory would increase its exports to China of wheat, canola, beef, pork, metallurgical coal, iron ore and others above its historical share of the Chinese market if one of the three is victim of such sanctions.
An offer could be made to other countries to join later. China would quickly understand that it could no longer divide us by increasing its imports from another supplier.
Democratic countries should also agree to continue to protest against China’s flouting of the agreement to guarantee Hong Kong’s autonomy until 2047, and against China’s human rights abuses – including the continuing genocide in Xinjiang – by asking for a full investigation by the UN.
One important and difficult deadline is looming on us: the holding of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next February. Since the number of cases related to the Delta variant is increasing in China, Canada and allies should ask that the Games be postponed to February, 2023. They should also specify that if China does not agree to let a UN investigation team go to Xinjiang immediately, and if it continues to deny the World Health Organization complete, unrestricted access to investigate the origin of COVID-19, Canada and the United States will offer to jointly host the Olympics using existing facilities in Vancouver, Whistler and Seattle. This would also prevent China using the event for propaganda purposes.
To counter China’s influence in the developing world through its Belt and Road Initiative, which finances global infrastructure projects, Western countries need to offer an alternative with more investment and assistance. They must also demonstrate that a democratic system presents more long-term potential than the Chinese authoritarian regime.
It is important to distinguish between Chinese leaders and Chinese citizens: Chinese immigrants have made a great contribution to Canada’s development and the government should declare that Canada remains open to Chinese nationals, including students, and will provide support to all Chinese nationals seeking asylum from state persecution, including those from Hong Kong.
Let’s hope the new government elected on Sept. 20 will quickly produce a new engagement strategy with China that opposes its thuggery and meets the expectations of Canadians.
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