Members of Parliament were warned Monday that an insufficient response from Canada and its allies to the crisis in Hong Kong could embolden the Chinese Communist government in Beijing to one day move against the self-ruled island of Taiwan.
“I remain very concerned that Beijing could draw the wrong conclusions about the international community’s response to Hong Kong, which over time could lead it to extend such an approach to Taiwan,” Evan Medeiros, an American scholar who served on the National Security Council in Barack Obama’s administration, told the Commons Canada-China committee.
“The U.S., Canada and other governments should work in co-ordination to take actions that disabuse Beijing from the belief that it could extend its coercion to Taiwan.”
The Commons committee on Canada-China relations has been holding hearings on Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, where 300,000 Canadian citizens live.
A new national security law imposed by the Chinese Communist Party on the former British colony has chilled political freedoms by creating a cadre of secret police to enforce new vaguely defined offences that carry punishments as harsh as life in prison.
Prof. Medeiros, an expert in Asian studies at Georgetown University, cautioned MPs that he did not regard Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong as a prelude to military action against Taiwan. But, he said, China will certainly be taking inventory of how much blowback it received for restricting political freedoms in Hong Kong.
He said he’s concerned that “if there is insufficient solidarity in the West about the situation in Hong Kong, then in the future, if the situation deteriorates over Taiwan, Beijing could come to the conclusion that the costs were worth bearing – that they were really weren’t that high. And that American and Canada and U.K. and Australia would eventually get over it.”
China regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control, though most people in Taiwan have shown no interest in being ruled by China. In January, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: “The unification of the two sides of the strait is a historical inevitability,” according to state-run Xinhua News.
Aside from suspending an extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and ending shipments of certain military goods to the territory, Canada’s response to the deteriorating rights situation there has included two joint statements with the U.S., Britain and Australia and one with the Group of Seven. There have been no requests for Canada to extradite people to Hong Kong over the past five years.
Prof. Madeiros advised Canada to broaden future statements to include Japan, South Korea and European Union countries. And to take co-ordinated action with the U.S. to “signal there are costs for its crackdown.”
MPs were urged to slap targeted sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human-rights abuses in the former British colony by using the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, known as the Sergei Magnitsky Law. The U.S. earlier this month imposed sanctions on Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and 10 others.
Witnesses urged the committee not to enact broad sanctions measures that would hurt Hong Kong’s economy. Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, a Chinese non-governmental organization founded by overseas Chinese students and scientists, urged Canadian authorities to consult databases created by Hong Kong support groups.
“When it comes to sanctions, implement them like laser surgery – not hitting them over the head with a baseball bat,” she said.
“Threatening [sanctions] is not enough. You have to follow through,” she told MPs.
Canadian MPs were reminded of how Canada and the United States and other Western allies said little or nothing when warning signs arose in Hong Kong years ago.
China had pledged in a 1984 treaty with Britain – the Sino-British declaration – that it would allow Western-style freedoms including freedom of the press, assembly and speech to continue to flourish in Hong Kong for 50 years after the former colony was relinquished by the British.
Alvin Cheung, a scholar at New York University’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute, noted however that in 2014, China declared that the Sino-British declaration no longer had any meaning. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman in 2017 told journalists that it was now only “a historical document, [and] no longer has any practical significance, and it is not at all binding” on Beijing.
“The failure of the international community – Canada included – to condemn these repudiations has contributed to the climate of impunity under which the People’s Republic of China now operates in Hong Kong,” Mr. Cheung said.
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, a member of the committee, said: “the defining question for the upcoming committee report on Hong Kong will likely be whether or not to recommend the use of Magnitsky sanctions ... Without real consequences, Chinese state aggression will continue to grow.”
With reports from Reuters
Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.