Skip to main content

Canada’s foreign affairs department has warned the Trudeau government about the perils of deepening ties with China, saying the authoritarian state represents a “strategic challenge” to Canadian values and interests.

In a transition briefing note for François-Philippe Champagne, who became Foreign Affairs Minister in November, officials of the Global Affairs Department caution the government that while Canada has for a long time seen China as primarily an economic opportunity, it must now consider the risks of deepening ties.

"While Canada has long framed its China policy through the lens of economic opportunity, it now needs to take account of Beijing's long-term strategic challenge to Canada's interests and values,” the briefing note says.

The document was provided to the House of Commons committee on Canada-China relations, which is currently studying the deep chill in relations between Ottawa and Beijing. The Canadian government is facing calls to rethink how it engages with China because of its conduct after Canada’s December, 2018, arrest of a Chinese executive on a U.S. extradition request. In what is widely seen as retaliation, Beijing slashed agricultural imports from Canada and practiced what critics call “hostage diplomacy” by locking up two Canadians.

“The crisis has demonstrated Beijing’s readiness and ability to use aggressive political and economic measures to punish Canada … and to propagate norms of international relations inimical to Canadian interests," the document says. Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Marta Morgan told the committee that the briefing note was a “diagnostic for the incoming minister of foreign affairs” prepared in the fall of 2019 “to set the stage for strategic advice on how to approach China in this new context.”

Calling China a “strategic challenge” to Canadian values and interests, it echoes similar statements by North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Western allies in recent months that frame China not as an enemy, but certainly as a rival or competitor, because of Beijing’s willingness to use its growing economic might to reshape the world.

Last year, NATO leaders released a statement that said China’s rising influence and international policies “present both opportunities and challenges that we need to address together as an alliance” and the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, described China as a “systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.”

China purchases 4 per cent of Canada’s exports, making it the third-largest trading partner after the United States and the European Union, the briefing note for Mr. Champagne said.

As the recent dispute with China has shown – during which the Chinese temporarily blocked pork and beef from Canada and dramatically cut purchases of Canadian canola seed – Canadian producers that depend on this market are “vulnerable to sudden and arbitrary trade disruptions,” the department said.

China is increasingly trying to rewrite the rules in world affairs, the Global Affairs briefing note said, adding that Beijing’s efforts run counter to Canadian values.

“The People’s Republic of China promotes perspectives on governance, economic security and human rights that diverge in fundamental ways from Canada’s,” the department told Mr. Champagne.

It cites China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as an example of how Beijing promotes its influence abroad. The Trudeau government signed up Canada to join the bank and pledged to purchase a stake worth $256-million.

Through the bank and Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative” foreign-investment campaign, China seeks to “leverage economic prowess to gain regional influence and export its model of [authoritarian] governance around the world,” the note said.

“The Chinese government also seeks to promote its ideology by inserting Communist Party of China language in multilateral documents, challenging universal rights with appeals to sovereignty and majoritarianism,” Global Affairs said.

The department also said China’s tough posture in dealing with other countries may be a cover for domestic problems. “There is the image of a global juggernaut but also evidence that Beijing’s assertiveness abroad seeks to compensate for fragility at home,” the memo said.

China’s population is aging, the country “lacks a functional social safety net,” and its future development will be constrained by “acute levels of environmental degradation, pollution, corruption, consumer debt and other financial risk,” the note for Mr. Champagne said.

Finally, the briefing document warned that China’s bullying of self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province, could pose one of the biggest challenges to the international order.

“The range of leverage and intimidation towards Taiwan … is even more intense and is likely to test the limits of the current rules-based system.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct