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Opinion China has taken our citizens and canola producers hostage. Here’s how Ottawa can muscle up

Colin Robertson is a former Canadian diplomat and current vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

For months, both Canadian citizens and a key part of the Canadian economy have been held hostage by China. After Canada’s detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, Beijing responded; for nearly 150 days, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig have been jailed, denied legal representation, forced to endure sleep deprivation and, in the case of the latter, had his diplomatic immunity abused as an on-leave Canadian foreign-service officer. Beijing then claimed that our canola is infected by pests. That canola embargo is a double whammy: It cuts our current market in half, and also sows doubt among Canadians about our health and safety standards.

If the Trudeau government continues to let this pass without response, we can expect the Chinese to ratchet up the pressure. Our beef, pork and seafood could be next. It’s due time for more muscular action.

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To address the canola embargo, we need to implement a food chain and inspection system that is the best in the world. We need to show foreign customers and Canadians alike that our food is of the highest quality and that “Made in Canada” is a signal of a premium brand.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is sending a minister-led delegation to demonstrate to Chinese authorities that Canadian canola is pest-free. To prepare for the inevitably long waits to see Chinese officials, the delegation should read Lord Macartney’s account of his 1793 mission to China’s emperor, which was unsuccessful because of the deep divides between the two sides.

The success of any Canadian mission will not come in China, but in visits to markets of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. To help those efforts, we should redeploy the trade commissioners recently added to China to those markets instead.

The United States needs to do more to help with the detained Canadians. Our unenviable position stems from Washington’s extradition request of Ms. Meng, and that process, governed by the rule of law, was needlessly complicated when Donald Trump mused about including her in a China-U.S. trade deal. But if there is a deal, the U.S. must receive assurances that Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor will be freed.

Canada should take the plight of the hostages to the various international human-rights tribunals and encourage human-rights NGOs to include them in their advocacy. We are championing the displaced Rohingya; why not press the cause of the million-plus Uyghurs kept in Chinese concentration camps? It will demonstrate to China that size does not mean a pass on human rights.

We should apply Magnitsky sanctions against those responsible for depriving the two Canadians of their human rights. We should also put a hold on student visas for the children of senior Chinese officials. As for Chinese goods entering Canada, they need careful inspection with a “name and shame” approach to counterfeits and tainted goods.

We should also formally declare that Huawei equipment will not be used in our 5G network buildout because we do not trust China. We should stand with our Five Eyes intelligence partners – the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand – who fear Huawei will be a conduit for Chinese espionage or cybersabotage.

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Our intelligence agencies report that Chinese agents are engaging in illicit activities, including trying to recruit Chinese students and influence politicians. These agents should be either arrested or, if they are working under diplomatic cover, sent home.

It’s also time to send the current Chinese ambassador packing. Lu Shaye has accused Canada of “Western egotism and white supremacy.” With the forced resignation of John McCallum as Canada’s envoy to China, we also need a new ambassador in Beijing. The Chinese will expect our new envoy to have commensurate stature as our U.S. ambassador, David MacNaughton – a fair request – but we expect a Group of Seven-level ambassador in return.

Our next ambassador needs to be tough-minded and go into the job without illusions. Xi Jinping’s China is authoritarian, and does not care about human rights. It believes that its system is superior and more efficient than liberal democracy.

A resurgent China is using the Meng affair to demonstrate its power and influence, and in doing so, it is redefining the norms of the rules-based order. Other authoritarians, looking to follow China’s lead, are watching closely.

So we must push back. Efforts to bring international pressure to bear on Beijing netted public condemnatory statements on our hostages from some of our allies as well as an open letter from think tanks and former envoys to China. It annoyed and embarrassed Chinese leadership. We need to urge our allies to keep up that pressure.

Turning the other cheek and hoping for a change of heart won’t work. Our hostages and canola farmers need help. Mr. Trudeau, it’s time to fight back.

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