It was a year ago Sunday that Canadian officials arrested Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver International Airport on an extradition request from the United States. A lot has happened since then.
Beijing retaliated by jailing two Canadians in China on trumped-up security charges, and has been holding them as political hostages ever since. Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig have reportedly been subjected to conditions that are considered torture by human-rights groups. China also banned some Canadian agricultural products.
Ms. Meng, who is the daughter of the founder of the Chinese telecom Huawei, meanwhile lives in a Vancouver mansion, free on bail, and has all the protections of the rule of law.
Also in the past year, China has been exposed as operating concentration camps filled with hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims and other religious minorities, and in which prisoners are subjected to brainwashing, beatings and rape.
In Hong Kong, citizens have been demonstrating against Beijing’s puppet territorial government for months. The movement began as a protest against a law, since abandoned, that would have allowed Hong Kong people to be extradited to China; it has since grown into a fight for justice in the wake of police brutality against demonstrators, to give the territory full democracy and to protect its autonomy from the tentacles of the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping.
Ottawa’s responses have been muted, because it wants economic ties with China and won’t dare further anger a dictatorship that doesn’t practise diplomacy so much as bully its smaller partners into silence.
The Trudeau government reconfirmed its hope of returning to business as usual when, in September, it named Dominic Barton as the new ambassador to China. He is the former head of the consultancy McKinsey & Company, a firm whose business operations in China depend upon Beijing’s favour.
Our position has suffered in comparison with that of the United States. The U.S. Congress recently passed bipartisan legislation defending Hong Kong’s democracy and imposing sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials found responsible for human-rights abuses in the territory.
That led Emily Lau, one of the leading lights of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, to call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “have some guts” and stand up to China.
That’s one way of putting it. It would require a great deal of political courage on the part of a country the size of Canada to denounce every one of the atrocities occurring in Mr. Xi’s China, or to impose sanctions on Chinese officials.
We don’t punch in the same weight class as the United States. China would fire back with more economic punishment, Canadian farmers would lose more money and Canadian industries would find themselves shut out by Beijing. The domestic pressure to relent would be immense.
That’s why “guts” isn’t the answer. Canada needs to be smart, and exploit Beijing’s weaknesses.
The biggest one is the Chinese economy. Mr. Xi’s Orwellian surveillance state needs steady economic growth to keep Chinese citizens passive. Mr. Trump’s trade war has slowed China’s growth and made the Communist Party a bit more vulnerable than it would like.
You could see that in the threat made by China’s ambassador to Canada after the U.S. legislation standing up for Hong Kong was passed. “If anything happens like this, we will certainly have very bad damage in our bilateral relationship,” he said of a possible similar action by Ottawa.
The last thing China wants is a co-ordinated, global effort calling out its abuses. Which means there ought to be just such an effort. Instead of letting Beijing isolate it, Ottawa should explore strategic alliances that would prevent that from happening.
Which leads to China’s other weakness: Its actions in Hong Kong are a violation of the treaty it signed when it took over the territory from the British in 1997.
Beijing agreed to a “gradual and orderly” evolution to universal suffrage in Hong Kong. Instead, under Mr. Xi, it has moved in the opposite direction.
If democratic countries stood up as one and demanded that it live up to its commitments, it would be difficult for China to carry out retaliation.
Instead, too many countries like Canada are leaving it to brave Hong Kongers to battle alone for something the entire world has a stake in. We can do better.
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