Michael Chong is the Conservative foreign affairs critic and MP for Wellington-Halton Hills.
China is trying to silence the truth abroad, after having silenced it at home.
Just over two weeks ago, I woke up to news that China’s government had sanctioned me, adding me to a list of officials in the United States, Britain and Europe who have been sanctioned for simply speaking. Speaking against Beijing’s genocide of its Uyghur Muslim minority. Speaking against its crackdown on Hong Kong.
The sanction bans me from visiting China, and prohibits Chinese citizens and institutions from doing business with me. I have no travel plans or business in China, so the sanctions will have no effect on me. Nevertheless, they should be taken seriously as an attempt to silence the growing criticism of the Chinese government’s human rights record and violations of international law.
Since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, China has become increasingly assertive in shutting down criticism. Increasing threats have accompanied this shift.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have now been detained for more than two years. Robert Schellenberg is on death row. The fate and whereabouts of Huseyin Celil remain unknown. China’s government has arbitrarily banned imports that targeted Canadian pork, beef and canola farmers. But Canada is not the only target of China’s government.
From its growing intimidation of Taiwan to its recent border skirmishes with India and the unilateral extension of its boundaries in the South China Sea, China’s leadership is increasingly threatening its neighbours.
It is not only abroad where China’s government is challenging the rules-based international order. In its crackdown on Hong Kong, it is violating the Sino-British Joint Declaration – an international treaty guaranteeing Hong Kong’s autonomy for 50 years. In the mass detention and sterilization of Uyghurs, it is violating the 1948 Genocide Convention – the first human rights treaty adopted at the United Nations. The abuse of other minorities continues, with its treatment of Christians, Falun Gong practitioners and long-suffering Tibetans.
We must wake up to the reality that in recent years, instead of improving their record on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, authoritarian governments have used their new-found prosperity to reinforce their authoritarianism.
Here in Canada, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has warned state-sponsored espionage through 5G technologies threatens national security and intellectual property. The federal government should advise universities against partnerships with Huawei Technologies and issue a directive to federal granting councils prohibiting these partnerships. It’s time Canada joins the rest of our Five Eyes intelligence-sharing allies and bans Huawei from our 5G telecommunication networks.
In 2016, the federal government joined the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, part of the strategy of China’s government to export its model of authoritarian governance and influence throughout the Indo-Pacific region. Canada should suspend payments to the bank and withdraw as a member.
China’s government is intimidating Canadians here at home, particularly in the Chinese community. Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and students on university campuses have been subjected to threats. A robust plan is needed to counter these intimidation operations, increase enforcement and make it clear to China’s diplomats that any involvement in these operations is grounds to be declared persona non grata.
There is evidence that Uyghurs in Xinjiang province are being forced to pick cotton and produce tomatoes through a coercive state-run system. The government should introduce effective measures to ban the import of goods made using forced labour.
The gross violations of human rights and international law in the treatment of Uyghurs and the people of Hong Kong cannot go unanswered. If we do not work with our democratic allies to counter these violations, we will allow China’s Communist leadership to undermine the rules-based international order that has ensured relative peace and stability since 1945.
The sanctions imposed on me and others are a clumsy attempt to silence our free speech and open debate, both pillars at the heart of our democracy. But they will work if we are silent. We cannot let our hard-won and cherished beliefs in human rights, democracy and the rule of law be lost to a new, ascendant model of repression, authoritarianism and fear.
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