It’s a New Era in Canada – China Relations

Forget about a Canada – China Free Trade Agreement. Forget about more access into China’s huge market for Canadian goods and agricultural products. By the time the current dispute between Ottawa and Beijing has been played out to it’s final conclusion, we’ll be lucky if we still have diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Many people will lament that. Particularly Canadian businesses and farmers eager for enhanced access to China. But by the time the dispute over the Canada’s detention of Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the behest of the United States, and the detention of two Canadians in China and the death sentence handed out to a third has run its course, chances are most Canadians will realize that being frozen out by the Chinese is not the problem some would make it out to be.

That’s because the Meng affair is revealing more explicitly and more directly what China is and what it is becoming as its economic, political and military power increases.

China is an authoritarian, repressive, expansive country one party state, ruled by a man who recently declared himself President for life. In the past decade it ‎among other things; developed rocky reefs in the South China Sea into artificial islands and turned them into military bases, disregarded a decision of the International Court of Justice that ruled against China, threatened most of its smaller neighbours, sent more than a million of its citizens to “re-education” camps, and cracked down on many organized religions.

Moreover, it is now practicing “hostage diplomacy” with the arrest and detention of two Canadians in China and the one day trial of another before sentencing him to death. All of the above are more the behavior of a third world dictatorship than an aspiring superpower.

Clearly, starry eyed prognosticators, and there were many of them, who for their own profit encouraged China’s economic rise‎ and predicted that rise would make China more democratic and a full participant in the existing world order were wrong. Rather than join the world as it is, China is trying to remake the world order to fit its own requirements.

Over the years China has used the allure of access to its 1.4 billion person market ‎to extract trade secrets and proprietary information from companies wanting to do business there. It has also manipulated it’s currency to keep its exports competitive. In the United States, voices that have warned of the emergence of China currently have President Donald Trump’s ear. The on-going U.S.- China trade war is about the only thing Trump has done that makes any sense.

And that trade‎ war brings us back to Madame Meng. She was apprehended in Vancouver on December 1st, at the request of the United States Government. Washington wants her extradited to the United States to face charges of bank fraud in connection with the sanctions then in place on dealings with Iran.

The fact that Madame Meng is the daughter if the founder of H‎uawei, the giant Chinese electronics firm and is a senior executive with the firm further complicates matters. As do the comments of Canada’s Ambassador to China, John McCallum.

This past week McCallum told reporters from Chinese media in Canada that Meng had a good chance of avoiding extradition to the United States when her case is heard in a few months’ time.

Some people think the Trudeau Government was using McCallum to signal the Chinese and to try to win the release of the two Canadians being held in retaliatory detention in China. But if that was the case, it destroyed Canada’s argument that the Meng detention and potential extradition is following the rule of international law and its obligations under the Canada-U.S. Extradition Treaty. The Government and McCallum quickly walked back his comments, but the damage was done.

The fact that Huawei’s bid to supply sophisticated 5G equipment to Canada’s internet companies is under a government security review is not helping matters. And nor will the news that this past week Canada signed a $40-million deal with the Finnish telecom giant and Huawei’s rival ‎Nokia to conduct 5G research.

So if you had been hoping for a Canada – China Free Trade deal, hoping for greater access to the giant Chinese market or with less immediate self-interest, hoping for the evolution of China into a responsible, constructive member of the international community, forget it.

There is a new world order, and China is a big part of it. But it is not the world order that most people hoped for.

Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Ensight and Navigator Limited, a Member of the Order of Canada, Chairman of Canada 2020 and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.