The federal government has blocked the sale of Aecon Group Inc., a giant Canadian construction firm, to Chinese interests for reasons of national security. It’s a surprising decision that raises the question of where Canada is going when it comes to its relations with China.
Not that it wasn’t also the right thing to do. Beijing has already made the accusation that the decision was rooted in “prejudices,” but that’s hogwash. It was, in fact, a direct result of the way the Chinese government has structured companies like China Communications Construction Co. Ltd, which sought to buy Aecon.
State-owned enterprises like CCCC are de facto offshoots of the ruling Communist Party. They are the instruments of an aggressively expansionist global economic strategy and have a vexing habit of trampling local laws.
It doesn’t help matters that China is, by any reasonable definition, a surveillance state. It is also an enthusiastic sponsor of industrial espionage. The $1.5-billion Aecon takeover would have given the Chinese government control over a sprawling concern involved in all manner of critical public infrastructure projects, including nuclear energy.
There is nothing wrong with using commerce to engage with nations that don’t share our interests or values. We do, and must continue to do, lots of business with China. But when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says “we don’t want trade with China at any cost,” he’s right.
The question is, why did Ottawa block this transaction based on a full-scale security review when last year it approved the sale of Norsat, a technology firm and military contractor, to a Chinese state-owned firm without the benefit of the same kind of review.
Perhaps Canada’s more pugnacious stance is a response to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s strengthening grip on power; he is now in office for life, a worrisome development. Or to Mr. Trudeau’s fateful mission to China late last year, during which he was embarrassed when he failed to secure the commencement of formal free-trade talks.
It hasn’t always been easy to divine the Trudeau government’s intentions regarding China. One hopes the Aecon decision signals a new, more consistent approach.