Canada-China Relations; A Path Forward?
In addition to the issue of whether the government was abandoning its pledge that its most important relationship is with Canada’s Indigenous people as a result of the moves made at Monday’s cabinet shuffle, there was the announcement out of China that Canadian citizen Robert Schellenberg had been sentenced to death for drug smuggling.
Yesterday, it was noted here that Prime Minister Trudeau when asked about this new development in the downward spiral of Canada-China relations said the death sentence “is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to arbitrarily apply the death penalty.” Trudeau also said that the government will do all it can to help Schellenberg. In addition, Canada updated the wording of the travel advisory dealing with China by saying there is a “risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”
Yesterday, the first salvo came from China in that it changed its travel advisory for Chinese citizens visiting Canada warning them of the “risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.” Prime Minister Trudeau was also accused of uttering “irresponsible remarks.” China stated “we urge Canada to respect the rule of law, respect Chinese judicial sovereignty, correct its mistakes and stop publishing irresponsible remarks.”
Alex Neve, secretary general for Amnesty International in Canada said that there is “needed immediate and concrete effort on the part of the Canadian government to convince Chinese authorities to overturn the death penalty in this case.”
Yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Freeland called the death penalty “inhumane” and requested clemency on behalf of Schellenberg.
In addition, the Conservative and NDP members of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee have requested that the committee meet to consider their request to have Canada’s Ambassador to China, John McCallum appear before it on Friday as he is presently in Canada for the purpose of updating the Trudeau cabinet on the state of play of the various issues between Canada and China. It only makes sense that McCallum while he is in Canada, be given the opportunity to brief Canadians as well as Trudeau’s cabinet.
The Foreign Affairs Committee will meet tomorrow to consider this request. As the Liberals have a majority of members on this committee the motion to call McCallum could be voted down, but surely in these circumstances the government members will support the motion as they should want to hear from McCallum as much as the opposition does.
Since the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in December on an extradition request from the United States, the Trudeau government has received advice from a number of sources as to what might constitute a reasonable and productive path forward.
The latest advice comes in the form of an opinion piece in the Globe written by Brian Lee Crowley who heads up the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. In an article entitled “China smells weakness—so it is picking on Canada” he explains that China evidently believes that “Canada is the weak link in the global contest with the west.” This, of course echoes the sentiments expressed by President Trump after the G7 summit in Quebec.
Crowley notes that the sentencing of Schellenberg to death has seriously escalated tensions between Canada and China.
He believes that China is targeting Canada and not the U.S. because it sees Canada as both weak and anxious to cement closer economic ties with China. However, given how this dispute has escalated, it is doubtful that Canadians would be supportive of reengaging on the trade front for some time. Depending on the outcome of this dispute it may be some years before free trade talks are initiated with China by Canada.
Having written that China respects strength, not weakness, Crowley suggests a number of measures that Canada could take to exhibit strength and get relations back on track.
Immediate measures could include expelling the Chinese Ambassador which would halt any dialogue between Canada and China but would show that Canada is fed up with the way it is being treated by China. Canada could also invoke the Magnitsky Act in order to impose sanctions on members of the Chinese regime.
Canada could begin to move closer to Taiwan and perhaps tighten Visa requirements.
To date the Trudeau government has said that it is still considering including Huawei as part of its 5G communications network. Canada should be clear that it is joining with the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, excluding Huawei from Canada’s 5G network.
Canada should engage with its allies and make it clear to the U.S. that we expect its full support as we move forward in this dispute with China. If China views Canada as weak, it also considers the U.S. as strong.
Crowley states that surely by now Trudeau has changed his mind about his admiration for China’s basic dictatorship. He concludes the article by writing “there is nothing to admire here—and much to oppose.” When the House of Commons resumes sitting at the end of this month, Trudeau can expect one of the first questions from the opposition to focus on this statement of admiration for the Chinese dictatorship, asking him whether he regrets it and does he now disavows it?
On January 3, Gordon Ritchie, former Canadian ambassador for trade negotiations and deputy chief negotiator of the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement wrote a scathing article entitled “Canada blunders and dithers its way to a failing grade on China relations.” He argues in support of the position advanced by John Manley that “a competent government would have found a way…to discretely warn Ms. Meng off. Instead, despite the ample warning, Canadian officials arrested Ms. Meng at the Vancouver airport.”
Ritchie writes that the result of this “astonishing ineptitude” is that “Canada finds itself in an impossible situation, caught between the world’s two economic superpowers as they go toe to toe in a struggle for supremacy.” Further he warns against proceeding with a free trade agreement with China and urges Canada to follow the other Five Eyes countries in barring Huawei from its 5G network. Ritchie’s hope at the time of writing was that the U.S. withdraws its extradition request or Canadian courts find the evidence in the extradition hearing unconvincing and release Ms. Meng.
Ritchie concludes with this “file is too important to continue to mishandle.”
Former Ambassador to China from Canada, David Mulroney shortly after the detention of two Canadians in China wrote that “we must finally see China for what it truly is.” Mulroney also wrote that Canada has a chance to show leadership and discuss with allies how we can do a better job of protecting sensitive technologies more effectively, and hold China accountable for human rights abuses at home and abroad.
Hopefully Ambassador McCallum will be given the opportunity to appear before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday in order to inform Canadians regarding the situation in China and what Canada is doing in relation to the two Canadian detainees and Mr. Schellenberg.
--today, Liberal Cabinet retreat begins in Sherbrooke , Quebec
--today, Britain’s Prime Minister May faces a non-confidence motion in the House of Commons resulting from yesterday’s Brexit vote.
--January 17, House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee meets to deal with opposition motion to hear from Ambassador McCallum
--January 17- 18, Liberal cabinet retreat continues
--January 18, CPI numbers for December to be released
--January 22, wholesale trade numbers for November to be released
-- January 22, monthly survey of manufacturing for November to be released
--January 23, retail trade numbers for November to be released--bc