For any journalist, the sight of uniformed police raiding the newsroom of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily and arresting its founder, Jimmy Lai, is sickening.
But that outrage pales in comparison to Beijing’s alleged genocidal acts against the Uyghur people: internment camps, sterilization of women, forced marriages.
The Chinese government is committing evil that anyone with a conscience must condemn. But we must not sink into a new cold war. The stakes are too high.
Up until a few years ago, many in the West – I was one of them – hoped that Communist China would evolve peacefully into a responsible global leader, that the world’s most populous nation and soon-to-be largest economy would integrate with the existing world order. We were wrong. As the old order frays, China under Xi Jinping has asserted its own alternative, authoritarian vision.
“Getting our moral compass right in dealing with China is especially difficult as we are forced to abandon the idea, no longer sustainable, that China’s openness will translate into political liberalization,” said Paul Evans, a specialist in Asian international relations at the University of British Columbia. “Living with China as it is rather than what we hope it might become demands a hard-headed realism in a dark period of internal repression.”
China’s authoritarian streak extends to within Canada’s borders. At testimony before the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-China Relations on Tuesday, Cherie Wong, executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, a pro-democracy advocacy group, called on the federal government to “investigate and combat foreign interference into Canadian institutions,” including universities, media, social media, businesses – even political parties.
“It’s become clear that there is a co-ordinated campaign to infiltrate and influence Canadian society, and this is part of the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party’s] global authoritarian agenda,” she told the committee.
Ottawa should also make it emphatically clear to Beijing that this country remains firmly allied with the United States, NATO, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other nations and institutions that operate within what is left of the rules-based international order.
But we must also be careful. People who blithely accept that China and the West are in a new cold war forget how dangerous such wars can be.
The idea of a cold war between China and the West “fills me with misgivings,” says Gordon Houlden, director of the China Institute at University of Alberta. If you’re old enough, you may remember the fear in September, 1983, after the Soviets had shot down a South Korean airliner that the Reagan administration would overreact and things would spiral out of control.
And there was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when Russia and the United States came to the brink of war.
“We assume that if we make common cause, we can bend China to our will,” Prof. Houlden said. But China is vastly more powerful economically than the Soviet Union ever was. Containment and deterrence were designed to limit and ultimately dismantle a Soviet empire that possessed only a small fraction of the West’s wealth and technological prowess.
In contrast, “China is a great power that has not yet reached its full strength,” Prof. Houlden said. Whatever Canada and other nations may say or do, “we have to live with that.”
This country can, however, serve as a refuge for Hong Kongers, Uyghurs and others from China seeking asylum. Canada benefited immeasurably by welcoming refugees fleeing Soviet oppression. We would benefit equally by welcoming those fleeing an oppressive China.
And by giving asylum to Hong Kong political refugees and others fleeing the regime, we would be asserting core Canadian values of sheltering the persecuted and defending freedom.
Ottawa must continue to do whatever it can to secure the release of imprisoned Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Canadian businesses will continue to pursue opportunities within China. Prof. Evans envisions a three-pronged approach “that involves co-operation where we have mutual interest, dialogue where we think there is room for creative compromise, and pushback in defence of our core interests and values.”
And let’s also offer a lifeline to Hong Kongers and other Chinese fleeing the regime. We’ll be glad we did.
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