In Canada, Political Rift Widens Over China Policy

A growing rift is emerging among policymakers in over the country’s relationship with China. Amid fraying Sino-Canadian relations stemming from a multitude of issues—from the coronavirus, to Beijing’s repression in Hong Kong, to Meng Wanzhou’s pending extradition to the U.S. and the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China—a growing number of Canadians want their government to adopt a more bullish position towards Beijing. According to a poll release Wednesday by the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada, 83% of citizens want Canada to stand up to China on issues seen as national values, including the rule of law, human rights, and democracy. National Post’s Adrian Humphreys reported on the results of the public opinion poll:

The poll suggests Canadians are wary of China’s growing economic might, suspicious of investment from China, hoping Ottawa continues to push for the release of two Canadians detained in China, and concerned over declining human rights in China.

[…] The pandemic had a large impact on this year’s polling, both in the questions asked and in the answers given.

Two-thirds of respondents expressed distrust in China’s initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak: 67 per cent said the government of China didn’t act responsibly at the start of the crisis, and 68 per cent want an independent inquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus.

[…] Respondents remain concerned over the continued detention of Canadians and Michael Spavor, “the two Michaels” who have been detained in China for almost two years. [Source]

December marks the second anniversary of the detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in China. The pair were separately detained shortly after Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese tech giant , was arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities. She faces charges of fraud and conspiracy in the U.S. in connection with Huawei’s alleged violations of on Iran. Extradition hearings resumed this month in Vancouver, where Meng continues to live under house arrest. On Tuesday, a small group of activists and a number of Canadian MPs participated an online rally to call for her release. On Twitter, South China Morning Post reporter Ian Young covered the chaotic “Zoom to Free ” meeting, reporting that one MP who was scheduled to speak ultimately failed to make an appearance:

Meanwhile, a growing chorus of opposition MPs in Canada’s parliament have been calling for even tougher action against China. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration has been criticized by some for not being tough enough against Beijing. This week, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said that Canada should resist “tough talk about China,” arguing that it would hurt the release of the two Michaels. Reuters’ Steve Scherer reported that Trudeau’s main rival has pledged to adopt a more aggressive position were it to gain power, including boycotting certain goods:

“The Trudeau government has been out of step and naive on China since the moment he was elected,” Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said in an interview.

As prime minister, O’Toole said he would not “sacrifice our security interests, our values, our alliances, just for trade opportunities.”

Trudeau has come under increased pressure to embolden his approach to China, which arrested two Canadian citizens shortly after Meng was detained. China has also shut down most imports of Canadian canola. [Source]

In a sign that the Trudeau administration is feeling the pressure to toughen its posture against Beijing, the government made several announcements this month pushing back against Beijing’s aggression. Last week, it highlighted China’s cyber threat when it identified Chinese state-sponsored cyber activity as “the most sophisticated threat” to Canada’s power supply. Parliament recently passed a motion to force the government to decide within 30 days whether to allow Huawei to supply equipment to Canada’s network.

On diaspora and immigration issues, Canada’s intelligence agency issued a warning this month that Operation Fox Hunt, China’s global campaign to harass and intimidate members of the Chinese diaspora it views as enemies, was actively targeting Canadians. In defiance of open threats by the Chinese ambassador regarding the safety of Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong, Ottawa announced an immigration arrangement for recent Hong Kong college graduates that would offer them a path to citizenship in Canada. Last week, it joined in a statement with fellow “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance members—Australia, Britain, New Zealand, and the U.S.—in condemning the disqualification of elected lawmakers from Hong Kong’s legislature. China’s Foreign Ministry countered that the alliance of five “should beware of their eyes being poked and blinded.”

The flurry of activity over the last month suggests that the ruling Liberal Party may be trying to reorient itself to meet growing demands for it to toughen its stance towards Beijing. An open question is how the incoming Biden administration, who has committed to strengthening longterm alliances but whose own agenda on China remains unknown, might shape Ottawa’s China policy. There have been signs that the two North American countries are looking to work together on the issue. for example when the Prime Minister reportedly sought help from the U.S. on the issue of the two Michaels in a phone call with President-elect Biden earlier this month. AP’s Rob Gillies reported on Trudeau’s comments on a recent call with the president-elect:

“[Beijing’s] approach of coercive diplomacy is ineffective,” Trudeau said at a news conference. “I am extremely confident that the incoming administration will continue to be a good partner to Canada and other nations around the world as we look to impress upon China that the approach they are taking is simply not working.” [Source]

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