Last week, Canadian media were barred from entering an event in Beijing where our own Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, was giving a talk to the Canada China Business Council.
This surprised the Canadian media, who reported on it with great frustration. But it shouldn’t have. In fact, they should expect more of these antics in the years to come.
While I wasn’t at that event, I wasn’t far away at the time, sitting in a bar in Taiwan listening to veteran foreign correspondents from Europe talk about their time spent stationed in Beijing.
They told stories about the Chinese government reps who were assigned to watch over them, attempt to direct their work, shamelessly criticize their stories and allow or deny access to what they were reporting on.
Every question was considered hostile. Basic reporting was taken to be an attack on the state. The Chinese Communist Party doesn’t do freedom of the press. It’s just not in their DNA.
It’s important Canadians understand this because the more we get involved with China, the more these types of incidents will arise. And there will be nothing we can do about it. Because while the likes of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may bring up these issues from time to time with the Chinese, we have no leverage over them.
We will not be setting the terms for our business dealings with China. They will. And their guiding philosophy when it comes to trade is that if one side is going to bend to the will of the other, it is everyone else who will bend to them.
Think this is an exaggeration? This weekend The New York Times released a report on 600 projects that China financed in other countries called “The World, Built By China”. It presents a troubling picture of a world increasingly placed under Chinese influence.
“China envisions a vast global network of trade, investment and infrastructure that will reshape financial and geopolitical ties — and bring the rest of the world closer to Beijing,” begins The Times’ report.
It’s a sly initiative. It begins as simple offers of reasonable loans then turns into a play for control of important assets. “Sri Lanka borrowed more than $1 billion from China for this strategic deepwater port, but couldn’t repay the money. The port is now controlled by China, which is leasing it for the next 99 years,” says the report.
This is the whole idea behind the Belt and Road Initiative, a long-term sweeping economic project devised by President Xi Jinping that sees China’s influence expanding across Asia, Eastern Europe and much of Africa. It’s destined to be a Chinese replacement to bodies like the International Monetary Fund and other U.S.-dominated global financial instruments.
Canada is nowhere near as caught up in this mess as other countries. But that is precisely why we need to talk about it now, right as Trudeau and others are leading us towards a closer relationship with China.
This does not mean we abandon trade with China. We just have to do it responsibly and with our eyes open. Sometimes that means standing up and saying no.
One of the worst decisions made by Stephen Harper was his government’s approval of the purchase of Alberta energy company Nexen by a Chinese state-owned enterprise.
One of the best decisions made to date by Trudeau has been his rejection of another bid by a Chinese government owned firm to purchase construction giant Aecon. We can only hope that was the beginning of a trend.
The concerns around the world about the degree that China is economically absorbing other countries, making them de facto vassal states to the Middle Kingdom, is very real. Here in Canada we need to listen to them and learn from them.
The media ban was an important story. It’s part of a far bigger one though.