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The former director of the White House national-security council said he had expected Beijing’s use of what he called 'hostage diplomacy' to have a chilling effect on engagement between Western countries and China, and is 'somewhat disappointed.'

Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Canada should scale back engagement with China until two Canadian hostages are released and ban telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. from supplying next-generation 5G mobile technology on national-security grounds, says a member of former U.S. president Barack Obama’s national-security council.

Tarun Chhabra, who was a director on the White House national-security council from 2015-17 and is now a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute, said Beijing crossed a “red line” in arresting Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in retaliation for the detention of senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

“There still has to be a red line, and arbitrary arrests like the two Michaels have to be the red line,” Mr. Chhabra said in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Wednesday.

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He said he had expected Beijing’s use of what he called “hostage diplomacy” to have a chilling effect on engagement between Western countries and China, including unofficial discussions and interaction on a non-official level.

“I have to say, I am somewhat disappointed by the fact that hasn’t been the case," Mr. Chhabra said. "There’s obviously official government business that has to go on, there’s going to be some commerce … [but] I think all of us should be sending a stronger message to Beijing.”

Mr. Chhabra said countries such as Japan, South Korea and Norway have faced “intimidation and coercion” during disputes with China, and he urged liberal democracies to “inoculate themselves” to withstand this bullying.

The Canadian military was criticized after The Globe reported that Ottawa sent 170 athletes and coaches to an armed-forces sports competition in China earlier this month. China’s embassy in Canada cited this participation in the games as more evidence that Beijing’s conduct is not costing it allies. Small-business minister Mary Ng came under fire for travelling to Beijing this summer, even as the two Canadians remained jailed, and tweeting about the ice cream that a Canadian firm is selling there.

“Beijing is very attuned to opportunities to use symbolic gestures, sometimes ones that are perceived to be routine or that have been long-scheduled … as propaganda weapons,” Mr. Chhabra said. “I think you have to review all kinds of exchanges and think more defensively about the ways in which they could be manipulated against you.”

Mr. Chhabra, who is visiting Canada this week to speak to the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy about China’s growing threat, said the federal government should not allow Canadian telecoms to buy Huawei’s 5G technology.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces a difficult decision on whether to join the United States, Australia and New Zealand in barring Huawei equipment from 5G mobile networks. The United Kingdom and Canada, which with those other three countries form the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, are conducting security reviews of 5G technology.

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“There are serious security concerns with Huawei providing the key components of 5G networks because of cybersecurity concerns that have to do with confidentiality as well as network availability,” Mr. Chhabra said.

This week, Germany’s foreign intelligence service chief warned that Huawei should not be given a significant role in that country’s 5G network because it “cannot be trusted fully.”

Huawei has been fighting U.S. attempts to persuade its Five Eyes partners and other allies to bar the Chinese firm from supplying gear to their 5G networks.

Mr. Chhabra cautioned Ottawa and other Western countries against allowing Huawei equipment because they fear that if they did not, China would punish them economically – as Beijing has done in the case of Ms. Meng, whose father is the founder of Huawei.

China detained Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor only days after Canada arrested Ms. Meng at Vancouver International Airport on an extradition request from the U.S. government.

“Any country that has come under the boot of Chinese intimidation and coercion – why give them more leverage over you?" Mr. Chhabra asked. “Surely the answer cannot be that because we have faced Chinese coercion, we should submit ourselves to far more by making ourselves vulnerable to Chinese control over our telecommunications networks.”

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He noted that China itself is wary of allowing foreign telecommunication firms a significant role inside its borders. “Internally, China has always been quite clear about the political power in telecommunications and its absolute insistence that no foreign telecommunication companies be allowed in their networks,” he said.

The U.S. has threatened to curtail sensitive intelligence to countries that allow Huawei into their 5G networks, particularly members of the Five Eyes.

Mr. Chhabra said he wished the Trump administration had not threatened U.S. allies and instead quietly focused on the technical reasons Huawei equipment can’t be trusted.

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