For a second year running, Canada has blocked some exports of military goods to China – in almost every case, records show, because the government felt allowing them would be contrary to this country’s “foreign and defence policy.”
The recently released Exports of Military Goods report for 2018, published by the Department of Global Affairs, shows 5,466 permits were approved to ship military goods and technology to foreign countries. Only four export permits were outright denied, three of which were shipments destined for China. The fourth was for an export to the United Arab Emirates.
Similarly, in 2017, the export record for that year shows more than 5,560 export permits were approved. Only four permits were denied, three of which were for goods headed to China. The fourth permit was for exports to Iran.
Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques said the government has usually been vigilant in monitoring military goods and dual-use technology to China because of concerns some of the exports could be weaponized by Beijing’s military or intelligence agencies.
“In China, it was assumed that if it had potentially dual-use, that it would end up with the military, and so we were quite scrupulous, and often [Canadian] companies will be applying, including going to the minister’s office [to seek redress], but it’s very rare that the decision was overturned,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
The Canadian government offers only a general description of the type of goods it stopped from being shipped to China. In 2018, all three permits for China-bound goods fell under the category of “sensors and lasers" with military applications. This also includes acoustical listening equipment and cameras with military uses.
In 2017, according to Ottawa, the denied permits for China included one for weapons that could include handguns, mortars or automatic firearms. Other denied permits fell under the general category of “aerospace and propulsion” systems with military applications.
In five of the six cases over the past two years, the Canadian government has explained the denial by saying the export would be incompatible with this country’s foreign and defence policy.
“Long and short of it is we don’t want these goods in the hands of the Chinese," Toronto trade lawyer Cyndee Todgham Cherniak said of the reason given.
In the sixth case, the permits were for weapons, and the reason given was that China is not a sanctioned export destination on Canada’s Automatic Firearms Country Control List. This is the list of approximately 40 countries to which Canadians can legally export automatic firearms and other weapons.
What’s particularly interesting is that the applicants – unidentified in Ottawa’s records – didn’t withdraw their applications for export permits. Would-be exporters are allowed to pull their application if it becomes clear it will be rejected. In 2018, for example, 704 were withdrawn.
David Mulroney, a former Canadian envoy to Beijing, said he is not an expert on export permits but the figures seem to suggest a hardening of the line by Ottawa.
“I’m not much of an authority in this area, although I do recall that there was fairly thorough review of items that might appear sensitive or questionable,” Mr. Mulroney said. “What interests me most is the increased volume of withdrawals year to year, which could be an indicator of even greater scrutiny.”
Mr. Saint-Jacques said the Canadian government will have to be even more scrupulous when it comes to China and its attempts to obtain Canadian technology that can be used against its citizens and minorities such as Muslim Uyghurs.
“When you know the extent that they are putting into place surveillance systems and using technologies for facial recognition or technologies that can be used in the [Uyghur re-education} camps in Xinjiang, so I think the list of goods will be subjected to more scrutiny, especially with artificial intelligence, which a nefarious regime can use to exercise more controls on citizens,” he said.
Mr. Saint-Jacques said he hopes the Liberal government will launch a complete review of its China engagement policy in the fallout from Canada’s arrest of Huawei senior executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. authorities in relation to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Beijing responded by demanding Ms. Meng’s immediate release, arresting two Canadians – Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig – on alleged national-security violations and restricting imports of Canadian canola, pork and beef.
"We have to be a lot more careful in dealing with China, now that we know a lot more about the dark side of China,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said.
Canada only began publishing details of denied export permits in 2016, so there is no public record of blocked shipments before that.