Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is at long last talking tough with China, we’re told. Not only that, but there’s a senior Canadian parliamentarian in China, right now, talking tough about the arbitrary imprisonment of diplomat-on-leave Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, and about Beijing’s sudden embargo on billions of dollars’ worth of Canadian canola exports.
The evidence for the amusing claims about Trudeau’s tough talk is a single milquetoast discombobulation the prime minister offered to reporters on Tuesday after touring an aluminum plant in Sept-Îles, Que.
“China is playing stronger, making stronger moves than it has before to try and get its own way on the world stage and western countries and democracies around the world are pulling together to point out that this is not something that we need to continue to allow,” he said.
The tough-talking parliamentarian, Rob Oliphant, Liberal MP for Don Valley West, was appointed to serve as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s parliamentary secretary only a couple of weeks ago. Oliphant happens to be among seven members of the 59-member Canada-China Legislative Association (CACN) who are traipsing around Shanghai, Nanjing, Hong Kong and Macao at the moment. It’s a routine junketeering escapade of the sort the ostentatiously useless CACN regularly enjoys in China.
Or perhaps it’s not entirely useless. The CACN is regarded as quite useful by the United Front Work Department, the Chinese Communist Party’s multi-billion-dollar overseas influence-peddling and diaspora-bullying enterprise. CACN members frequently banquet, confer and liaise with the UFWD, and the junkets also allow Canadian parliamentarians to mix and mingle with the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the rubber-stamp legislature of subservient sweatshop billionaires with which the CACN maintains cordial relations.
At least Oliphant is unlikely to be kidnapped and hustled away in a car with black-tinted windows and ministry of public security licence plates. In any case, Freeland’s Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, won’t even take her calls. Canadian cabinet ministers have been burning up the telephone lines to their counterparts ever since Beijing began its retaliations for the apprehension of the Communist Party’s untouchable Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer for the Chinese telecom giant Huawei, last December. None of them has taken our calls. The CACN’s last guided tour was in January, to no effect, as if it were necessary to say.
It is useful to recall that Wanzhou, wanted by the U.S. Justice Department on several counts of bank fraud and misrepresentation in the course of dodging American sanctions in Iran, is the daughter of Huawei’s big boss, Ren Zhengfei. It should also be remembered that daddy is a ranking Communist Party member and former People’s Liberation Army officer who still manages to pass himself off outside China as a wholly independent corporate chief executive officer who would never dream of complying with the rigid provisions of Chinese law requiring Huawei to collaborate with Beijing’s intelligence agencies, on command. Besides, 99 percent of the holding company that owns Huawei is owned by a “trade union” that does not answer to Huawei workers, but instead reports directly to the Communist Party’s central committee.
Huawei is the “national champion” corporation and cutting-edge high-tech population control and surveillance behemoth that Xi Jinping has assigned to lead Beijing’s technological war with the world’s liberal democracies. And Team Trudeau is still pretending that Huawei is a serious contender for Canada’s rollout of fifth-generation (5G) internet connectivity. This is so, even though three former Canadian intelligence chiefs have called Huawei a national security threat, as have the Americans — Democrat and Republican (long before Donald Trump came along) — the Australians, and intelligence agencies in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Japan, Taiwan, Poland, and on and on, even Vietnam.
Beijing has been quite clear: Canada must abrogate the terms of the Canada-U.S. extradition treaty, suspend Meng Wanzhou’s court proceedings, allow her to leave her $15-million mansion in Vancouver’s posh Shaughnessy neighbourhood where she’s living while awaiting hearings, and let her return to Shenzhen as she pleases.
“We do not escalate,” Freeland explained, perhaps intending to squelch any speculation that she’s left a string of pathetic messages on Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s answering machine. “We would like this conflict to end, but we also do not back down.”
But back down from what, exactly? Back down from petitioning Americans and Europeans to put in a good word for Kovrig and Spavor if they happen to find themselves in conversation with one of the bloated thugs from the Chinese Communist Party’s politburo?
In a similar vein, Trudeau vowed that Canada is “going to continue to hold strong … to stand up for our values and our principles.” A slight problem is the yawning chasm of a credibility gap between upholding Canada’s values and principles and the actual evidence for the Trudeau government’s pledge to “stand up” to Beijing. The Trudeau government has never stood up to Beijing. And it is not standing up to Beijing now.
The Trudeau government has not revoked the credentials of the insufferable Chinese ambassador, Lu Shaye. Canada has not placed any of the hundreds of bloodthirsty Chinese human rights offenders on a Magnitsky law sanctions list. The Trudeau cabinet has not used its powers to embargo or impose tariffs upon any of the Chinese bric-a-brac flooding Canada’s markets. Canada has done nothing in the way of a normal country being pushed around like this, and there is no indication that Team Trudeau has any intention of doing so any time soon.
Trudeau and his ministers are not merely being cautious and intelligently wary of escalation. Behind the outward appearance of calm, there is no hard-nosed and sophisticated diplomatic operation in play. What’s happening here is not just too nuanced and complex for the rest of us to understand. Everything is not under control.
What we’re witnessing is exactly as it appears. It’s gormless, confounded paralysis. It is the legacy of a generation of Liberal politicians and their advisers, and they have had it their way, all the while sneering about the “domestic political considerations” that have restrained them from ever more indecent intimacies with China’s corrupt parasitical elites.
For a quarter of a century, the national interest in Ottawa’s relations with Beijing has been conflated with the sleazy interests of the business-class compradors in the China lobby, and all the while, ordinary Canadians have had their democratic sensibilities laughed at, their threshold for disgust routinely breached, and their intelligence frequently insulted. No matter the reputations of the “experts” and the disgracefully compromised academics whose counsel dragged us into this abyss in the first place, and no matter how hard the Canada-China Business Council would want us to believe otherwise, things are not going to go back to normal. Canadians would have to be idiots to want that, anyway.
Chinese president Xi Jinping is the new normal. Rounding up more than a million Uyghur Muslims and locking them away in concentration camps is the new normal. Annexing the South China Sea and making jokes about international law and long-standing trade conventions is the new normal. Destroying centuries-old Bhuddist shrines, demolishing ancient, glorious mosques, bulldozing churches – this is normal now.
Locking Canadians away in dungeons is normal now. And so is Canada’s mewling and whimpering about it to our fellow actors on the “world stage.”
By TERRY GLAVIN