Jonathan Manthorpe is a journalist and author whose books include Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada, and Restoring Democracy in an Age of Populists and Pestilence, which will be published in July.
One blessing of the Huawei affair, sparked by the arrest of the telecom giant’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, is that it has shown Canada’s political, business and academic establishments how vulnerable this country has made itself to a totalitarian regime in Beijing – one with which Canadians have few common values or shared interests.
The idea that Canada is seen as a special and privileged friend of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been a pillar of this country’s diplomatic and business mythology since ambassadors were first exchanged in 1970.
Beijing had bigger fish to fry for several decades. But now the relationship with Ottawa has served its purposes and Beijing has become increasingly dismissive of its erstwhile friend. In the past few years, Canadian promoters of a partnership with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have caught the change in mood and begun to admit to their self-delusion. As a professional China watcher for more than 30 years, I live in a community of former ambassadors, diplomats and businesspeople who have devoted large chunks of their careers to the PRC. The change in perception is evident to me every day.
The Huawei affair has only resulted in more changes of heart.
This geopolitical contretemps is set against the larger backdrop of President Xi Jinping’s efforts to turn his homeland into an expansionist – see the global, multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative – and fiercely totalitarian state. As I detail in my book Claws of the Panda, there’s also been mounting evidence that Beijing has been using its political warfare agency, the United Front Work Department, to intimidate and suborn Canadians of Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur heritage.
The crisis threatening the China-Canada relationship will surely intensify after the interim decision by Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes of the B.C. Supreme Court earlier this week.
Ms. Meng, the daughter of the company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, was detained at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1, 2018, on an extradition warrant issued by the U.S. Department of Justice. The 16-count indictment of Ms. Meng includes charges of bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
In January, Ms. Meng’s lawyers contended that these are not crimes in Canada. Her lawyers argued the warrant against the Huawei executive should therefore be dropped and she should be free to return to China.
Justice Holmes disagreed. On Wednesday, she ruled that the offences with which Ms. Meng is charged are crimes in Canada and that the extradition case could proceed.
Beijing’s reaction to Ms. Meng’s detention has been a master class in how to alienate a foreign country’s citizenry. A few days after Ms. Meng’s detention, PRC officials took into custody former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor. Both were living and working in China.
The two Michaels were tortured with sleep deprivation while undergoing hours of daily interrogation. Each man is being held in isolation. They have been charged with endangering the security of the PRC, but had been denied access to lawyers, and monthly visits by Canadian diplomats were stopped in January this year because of coronavirus concerns.
Soon after the detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, in January and February, 2019, two Canadians already convicted to prison terms for drug smuggling, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg and Fan Wei, had their sentences revised to the death penalty. Economic sanctions followed, halting the importation of Canadian grains and meat. Since then, Beijing’s diplomats and Foreign Ministry officials have kept up a steady stream of threats and invective against Canada.
Meanwhile, two noted Canadian friends of the CCP regime, former prime minister Jean Chrétien and former deputy prime minister John Manley, have advocated bypassing the rule of law in the Meng case and finding a way to release her.
So far, Ottawa has recognized that, as well as Ms. Meng, Canada’s adherence to the rule of law is on trial. So is Canada’s dependability as a partner that honours treaties it has signed.
Canada is caught in a diplomatic arm-wrestling match between two leaders – Mr. Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump – neither of whom believes in the rule of law or an independent judiciary.
No matter what happens next in the Meng case, it is essential that there be a fundamental redesign of Canada’s relationship with China.
Canada cannot continue to think it can have normal relations with a regime that responds to a diplomatic problem with kidnapping and economic sanctions. Nor can it continue to accept that a foreign government can dispatch agents to Canada to threaten and attempt to control the actions and activities of Canadian citizens.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has warned successive Ottawa governments about United Front operations for more than 20 years. The Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China has given the federal government two reports detailing Canadians being threatened by CCP agents. The supporting evidence has been vetted by Amnesty International.
CSIS has warned Canadian colleges and universities against contracting with Beijing for the establishment of Confucius Institutes in their schools. These, CSIS officials have said, are little more than espionage outposts of PRC embassies and consulates, and come under the authority of the United Front, not Beijing’s Ministry of Education.
Facing similar assaults by the United Front, Australia and Taiwan have passed legislation to regulate and if necessary expel foreign political organizations. Canada should do the same.
More fundamentally, Canada’s national political parties should stop seeing relations with the PRC as the axle around which this country’s relationship with Asia turns.
Canada cannot and should not sever relations with Beijing. But it should put most of its energy into developing relations with Pacific Rim countries with which it shares civic values and a view of the world.
There are plenty of them. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and potentially others are all natural friends and allies for Canada where the PRC is not.
Several of these countries, along with Canada, are members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. It is on this foundation that a new Canadian policy for relations with Asia should be built.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.