Two ex-Canadian ambassadors to China say a report that former Quebec premier Jean Charest is doing consulting for Huawei is an example of why Canada needs a federal registry to keep track of work retired senior public office holders do for foreign governments and companies that are not independent of foreign states.
The Globe and Mail reported last week that Mr. Charest, who is contemplating a run for the Conservative Party leadership, has been acting as a consultant to Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in the Meng Wanzhou extradition case and the tech giant’s efforts to participate in Canada’s 5G wireless networks. Mr. Charest, who also was a federal cabinet minister, has been part of a team at the law firm of McCarthy Tétrault, including former privy council clerk Wayne Wouters, that Huawei retained in the summer to offer strategic advice.
David Mulroney, Canadian envoy to China between 2009 and 2012, has proposed a registry modelled on one used in Australia to shed light on the work Canadians, including former senior public officials, do on behalf of foreign governments or their proxies.
He said he thinks private companies in China should be included because of the pervasive influence of Beijing’s ruling Communist Party. And because of Beijing’s 2017 national intelligence law, which requires Chinese companies to “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work” when asked.
“I know companies like Huawei say they are independent and I duly note that, but my advice to the government would be there are no truly independent Chinese companies,” Mr. Mulroney said.
Guy Saint-Jacques, who was Canada’s ambassador to China between 2012 and 2016, said he would also like to see a registry established.
“I think it would bring more transparency,” he said, adding later, “all of this is related to having a less naïve approach to China.”
Mr. Saint-Jacques noted that another former Canadian privy council clerk, Kevin Lynch, was a board member for state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) until he resigned in May, 2019.
The Globe reported last week that Mr. Charest and Mr. Wouters are providing strategic advice to Huawei. This includes business intelligence and policy advice on understanding the extradition process facing Ms. Meng, the chief financial officer and daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei. They are also advising the company as it seeks approval to sell equipment for the construction of Canada’s 5G networks. The federal government is conducting a cybersecurity review to determine whether Canada should bar the Chinese high-tech firm from participating.
Last week, Mr. Charest referred questions about his Huawei work to McCarthy-Tétrault, which declined to comment. The Globe reached out to McCarthy-Tétrault again this week for further comment about the firm’s work for Huawei, but received no response.
The Globe also attempted to contact other potential Conservative leadership candidates for comment.
The Conservative Party has urged the Trudeau government to ban Huawei from selling its 5G gear to Canadian telecoms as other members of the Fives Eyes intelligence partnership have done. The United States and Australia have blocked Huawei, and New Zealand rejected one proposal to build a 5G network with its gear. Britain and Canada have yet to decide.
MP Erin O’Toole, who is considering a run for the Conservative leadership, was the only one who responded. He said in a statement: “I will leave it to Mr. Charest to explain himself." He added: "I will continue to raise issues like the detention of our citizens, the disturbing internment of Uyghur Muslims and the need for Canada to stand with our Five Eyes security allies by not permitting Huawei on our 5G network. We need to put Canadian security first.”
Wenran Jiang, an adjunct professor with the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, said he would support a registry that brought more transparency to the work former public officials do for foreign entities, but he cautioned it would be difficult to determine what clients or activities to include.
Mr. Jiang also said he considers Huawei an independent company and not beholden to the Chinese government. “I think they are very much an independent company.”