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Brian Mulroney, seen here on June 4, 2019, said the Prime Minister should strike a blue-ribbon panel of experts to reshape Canada’s policy toward China.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Brian Mulroney is calling for “an immediate and urgent rethink” of Canada-China relations and is praising Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for rejecting domestic demands to free senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in exchange for the release of two imprisoned Canadians.

The former Progressive Conservative prime minister also told The Globe and Mail that Canada should bar Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.’s gear from this country’s next-generation 5G mobile networks if it would jeopardize intelligence sharing with Canada’s Five Eyes alliance.

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Mr. Mulroney, who advised Mr. Trudeau on the renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement with the United States and Mexico, said China has become an aggressive global player and a real threat to Canada and its Western allies.

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He is the most senior member of Canada’s political establishment to sound an alarm over China and advocate rethinking how this country engages with the Communist Chinese government under President Xi Jinping, considered the most powerful Chinese leader since chairman Mao Zedong.

The long-held Canadian government policy that China would evolve into a constructive partner in international relations as its economy and national wealth expanded no longer holds true, Mr. Mulroney said, pointing to Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea – one of the world’s crucial shipping lanes.

“You can see it everywhere from the South China Sea to our two citizens who were bundled off to jail for no reason at all except to protest an extradition decision in Vancouver,” Mr. Mulroney said. “There has to be an immediate and urgent rethink of our entire relationship.”

Mr. Mulroney said the Prime Minister should strike a blue-ribbon panel of experts to reshape Canada’s policy toward China and study how other Western countries are re-adapting their strategies to confront an increasingly belligerent Beijing.

“Get it done. Come up with a rethink of what our relationship should be with China. The world has changed,” Mr. Mulroney said.

He suggested former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney should head this panel.

The former envoy – no relation to the former prime minister – has argued for a new China strategy that closes the door on “such fictions as the idea that China is inherently peaceful and has no territorial ambitions, that it abides by a policy of non-interference in other countries, that trade is a favour it bestows on friendly nations, and that access to its leaders is an end and reward in itself.”

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Mr. Mulroney said he disagreed with the view of 19 prominent Canadians who signed a letter last week, urging Mr. Trudeau to free Ms. Meng and bring about the return of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, jailed in apparent retaliation for Canada’s December, 2018, arrest of the Huawei executive.

The signatories were mostly former politicians and officials from the Mulroney and Jean Chrétien eras as well former NDP leader Ed Broadbent, including Derek Burney and Hugh Segal, both former chiefs of staff to Mr. Mulroney.

“We’re a civilized important nation in the world. We have an extradition treaty with the United States of America. We were asked to honour it, and we did, and that’s what we should have done,” Mr. Mulroney said. “It also means the Americans and others should be helping us, working with us to get our citizens back.”

Mr. Mulroney says he now regrets suggesting last June that Mr. Chrétien should be enlisted as a special envoy to China with a mission to help free Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor and resolve Chinese trade action against Canadian farm products.

When he made that proposal, Mr. Mulroney said he did not expect that Mr. Chrétien and former top adviser Eddie Goldenberg would call for a prisoner exchange – a proposal he opposes.

“Then Mr. Chrétien and Mr. Goldenberg spoke out of the issue and said the way to do it is to do some kind of a [prisoner] switch. We let the woman go in Vancouver and they let our people go and that, of course, is completely counter to the position of the Canadian government,” he said.

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As for Huawei, the U.S. has threatened to withhold intelligence from Five Eyes members who build their 5G networks with telecommunications gear from the Shenzhen-based company.

Mr. Mulroney also said Mr. Trudeau should not risk losing access to high-grade intelligence shared by Canada’s allies in the Five Eyes alliance that includes the U.S., Australia, Britain and New Zealand.

“We have to preserve our relationship with the Five Eyes and whatever that takes, that is what we do,” Mr. Mulroney said, adding that he believes the Americans are serious about withholding sensitive intelligence from members who allow Huawei gear in their 5G networks.

After the Tiananmen Square massacre of June, 1989, Mr. Mulroney’s government arranged to have thousands of citizens of the People’s Republic of China already here in Canada to obtain permanent residence.

Christian Leuprecht, a professor at Royal Military College and Queen’s University, said he believes the pandemic will trigger a geopolitical realignment of international relations that is greater than the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or the end of the Cold War.

“We see people here like Mr. Mulroney with political instincts who can see this. Former prime ministers weighing in suggests this isn’t just about electoral politics. It has to be about Canada’s geostrategic interests. And if we get this wrong, then it will have fundamentally detrimental consequences.”

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Guy Saint-Jacques, another former Canadian ambassador to China, said he backs the idea of a commission to rethink relations with Beijing; he says appointing David Mulroney, the ex-envoy, to head this would “send a very strong message.”

Australia and the U.S. have both barred Huawei gear from 5G networks. Britain set restrictions on Huawei gear for 5G, but did not bar it. After a rebellion by Conservative Party backbenchers who felt London didn’t go far enough, Britain announced a fresh review of Huawei.

The new review comes after British media outlets reported May 22 that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has instructed officials to draw up plans that would have Huawei’s involvement cut to zero by 2023.

Other countries building 5G networks without Huawei include Japan and Taiwan. The Times of India reported this week that the Indian government is weighing whether to bar Huawei gear from 5G.

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