Watching Canada’s behavior toward China over the past several months has been like watching a train wreck in slow motion, and one could not be blamed for coming to the conclusion that this display of consistent diplomatic incompetence on the part of Canadian policymakers was intentional.
Believe it or not, efforts were being made by Canada’s government to work with China not long ago. Years of planning had been put into consolidating a Canada-China Free Trade Agreement, and Canada signed up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in March 2017. So what went wrong, and how did it happen so quickly?
How we got here
In its first two years of power, Canada’s current Liberal government could not help but speak down to China in its efforts to pressure this global superpower to become greener, reform its governance system and “behave better” on corruption and human rights. This detached and condescending voice was not only alienating to China but demonstrated the height of hypocrisy, as Canada has never been known to treat its indigenous people justly or be free of corrupt practices at the highest levels. The failure of this elitist strategy only dawned on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his controllers when he returned red-faced from Beijing in December 2017, having been given the clear message that the free-trade deal and dreams of a “special relationship” were finished.
When it became clear that the “Sino-Canadian special relationship” was not going to happen the way some technocrats managing Canada had previously wished, a new policy of anti-Chinese belligerence became the chosen new doctrine. This led to the government’s intervention in the attempted purchase by China’s CCCI of the beleaguered construction giant Aecon Inc in May 2018 on claims that China had suddenly been categorized as a “national security threat.” Relations continued to deteriorate with the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou last December and the green-lighting in March of her extradition to face jail in the US.
The fact is that Canada’s Liberal Party under the control of Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (let’s not kid ourselves) has appeared to make the destruction of Canada’s participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative a priority. Rather than move into the new paradigm of “win-win cooperation” offered by China, this northern monarchy has (at least for now) thrown its cards into the bankrupt WTO/NATO/Five Eyes-led system.
On May 22, Freeland was heard speaking through Trudeau’s mouth when he attacked China for its detention of two Canadians accused of espionage, saying: “China is making stronger moves than it has before to try and get its own way on the world stage. Western countries and democracies around the world are pulling together to point out that this is not something we need to continue to allow.”
China’s ambassador to Canada responds
After Trudeau’s remarks, Chinese ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye said at a May 24 event: “The current China-Canada relations are facing serious difficulties and are situated at the rock bottom since the two countries have established diplomatic relations. It saddens us that the current China-Canada relations are at a ‘freezing point’ and face huge difficulties. The knots shall be untied by those who got them tied.”
Rather than move into the new paradigm of “win-win cooperation” offered by China, this northern monarchy has (at least for now) thrown its cards into the bankrupt WTO/NATO/Five Eyes-led system
Ambassador Lu had earlier made headlines by pointing out that the attack on Huawei and the arrest of Meng is politically motivated and reflects a racist agenda run by the London-led Five Eyes surveillance apparatus. In a January 2019 editorial, Lu wrote: “These same people have conveniently ignored the PRISM Program, Equation Group, and Echelon – global spying networks operated by some countries that have been engaging in large-scale and organized cyber-stealing, and spying and surveillance activities on foreign governments, enterprises, and individuals. These people also took a laissez-faire attitude toward a country that infringes on its citizens’ privacy rights through the Patriot Act. They shouted for a ban by the Five Eyes alliance countries … on the use of Huawei equipment by these countries’ own enterprises.”
Voice of reason snuffed out
There have been opportunities to turn this policy around of course. Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, tried to calm the tempest by making the obvious point to journalists in Toronto that Meng’s chances to avoid extradition were good because, first, US President Donald Trump had gone on record stating he would be willing to intervene in her case if it helped US-China trade and, second, Canada never signed on to the Iran sanctions involved in her case.
McCallum, referring to Trump’s earlier remarks, said, “If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made, which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”
McCallum was promptly fired.
One other positive light calling for indirect healing of Canada-China relations included a bipartisan Arctic Policy team that recently called for a new Arctic doctrine more in harmony with the practices of the Russia-China Polar Silk Road. However, beyond this, not much can be heard on the matter from either of Canada’s three primary parties, with the Conservative Party’s Andrew Sheer (a contender in the upcoming October elections) taking an even more anti-Chinese line by saying, “For years Trudeau has ignored the security threat the Chinese government poses to Canada and he’s allowed China to push Canada around. It’s time for him to show some leadership and finally stand up to China.”
Sheer demanded that Canada punish China by “withholding promised funds to the AIIB” and lodge formal complaints to the World Trade Organization (which ironically cannot settle any trade disputes due to Trump’s blocking of nominations to the WTO Appellate Body).
The victims are the Canadian people
The only people suffering from this manufactured conflict are Canadians. Farmers across the prairies have now watched their revenues collapse because of China’s cutting off of its Canadian soybean imports to the tune of C$2.7 billion a year. Canada is the world leader of soybean production and China is one of the leading importers.
Canadian tech companies will be hurt if Ottawa’s threatened ban on Huawei products is implemented and Canadians nationwide are threatened as long-decayed infrastructure continues to rot without any means of financing improvements, which China has proved itself uniquely capable of doing. China’s purchase of Canada’s construction giant Aecon Inc would have not only helped drive a policy of repairs and upgrades to Canada’s vital infrastructure but would have brought Canada into active participation on international Belt and Road projects.
To the degree that a technocratic elite is permitted to run roughshod over Canada’s foreign policy, those saner voices calling for Canada’s participation in the Belt and Road Initiative will continue to be snuffed out.
The simple solution to this debacle was given to Canada on a silver platter by Ambassador Lu in June 2017 when he said, “Canada could absolutely be an important participant, contributor, and beneficiary of the Belt and Road construction. Canada has joined the AIIB, which makes for good conditions for Canada to participate in the Belt and Road infrastructure construction. It is hoped that Canada could enhance policy coordination with Belt and Road countries, and seek specific areas and projects that it can take part in as soon as possible so as to gain early achievements through early participation.
“The government of British Columbia signed the Belt and Road cooperation documents with China’s Guangdong provincial government last year. We hope that the two local governments will take quick actions and actively participate in the construction.
“China is also willing to cooperate with Canada to jointly explore the third-party markets under the Belt and Road initiative. The initiative responds to the trend of the times, conforms to the law of development, and meets the people’s interests. It surely has broad prospects. I hope Canada will not miss any important opportunities for cooperation.”
The offer to join the new system is squarely on the table and if Canada is willing to shed its delusions in time to take part in this historic change in the world economy, then some profound soul-searching needs to occur posthaste.