Island Voices: Time to get tough on China over telecom exec’s arrest

For many months, Canada has been engaged in a shoving match, as the Chinese punish us for daring to detain telecom executive Meng Wanzhou in what was an appropriate response to a legal detain-and-extradite request from the United States.

The pushing is very much one-sided, with the Chinese playing the neighbourhood bully, while we play the whinging wimp. Day by day, as Canada tries to play the nice-guy role, China turns the screws a little tighter. We have two Canadian drug smugglers sitting on death row in China, while two other Canadians are capriciously detained for investigation as possible, even if unlikely, espionage agents. At the same time, the Chinese have taken to interrupting and disrupting Canadian trade, to add economic pressure to the bullying.

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Not unnaturally, the Canadian public demands that we “get our people back” by whatever means possible and get trade back on track, doing whatever is necessary, even if it means just “sucking it up” and swallowing our national pride, by letting Meng go. The folk in China’s Foreign Office are having a great laugh at the paucity of our weak-kneed reactions to their systematic bullying.

The Chinese believe they have the upper hand and will keep up with the bully tactics just as long as it continues to work for them. We need to turn this contest into hardball, adding some spit on our pitches.

First, though, let’s stop telegraphing our play: No news releases, no self-serving ministerial announcements in the House, no grandstanding out on the hustings. Just quietly but definitely turn the game around.

The first move is political, with no public announcements of any kind. Discontinue issuing visas to any Chinese national, governmental or otherwise, for any purpose.

Inevitably, the Chinese will want to know what’s up. Much as they did with the alleged infestation of Canadian canola exports, just tell the Chinese there’s concern about the quality of our ink; we’ll fix it and the visa stamp in due course. But it’ll be for us to decide just how much time that will take.

Next, on the diplomatic front, discontinue the search for a new Canadian ambassador. Leave our chargé d’affaires in place and send Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye packing, with just 72 hours’ notice. He is notoriously arrogant, and it is long past time he was booted off the playing field.

We should at the same time start rationalizing the size of China’s diplomatic presence in Canada. With China having the second-largest number of declared diplomats of any country in Canada, our goal should be to halve Chinese representation by year’s end. Just don’t renew, or, if necessary, deliberately cancel the existing visas.

Economically, Canada should immediately curtail imports from China, including those of Canadian businesses located offshore in China, such that by Dec. 31 this year, trade will be balanced dollar-for-dollar, imports measured against exports.

With the longer-term loss of business and reduced access of Chinese nationals to Canada, there are economic and social downsides to all of this. However, we will have to take them in stride. China will strike back. But, on the plus side, there should also be a significant reduction in money-laundering in B.C. as visits by Chinese nationals dry up.

Finally, Canada could do a little bullying of our own by quietly but decisively improving our day-to-day relations with Taiwan. It’s an island not much larger than Vancouver Island, but with a population of 24 million. Wooing Taiwan might serve Taiwan’s interest, our interest and global interests all in one stroke.

We should, of course, be very aware that the Chinese will strike back. The fate of the Canadians now detained by China might be decided by the Chinese entirely on a vengeful whim, not on the merits of the cases. But their fate always has been at the whim of China.

China could go even further, expelling other Canadians or even rupturing diplomatic relations. As hurtful for us as that might be, in the longer run, China will be the big loser. The bully will be seen to have been bullied back. Other nations will watch and learn from our experience. East and southeast Asia might be the bigger beneficiaries in the long run. Everyone likes to see the neighbourhood bully bested.

We’re not asking China to eat crow in all of this. Just quietly let two of our people go and turn the taps back on. Meng will get a fair hearing in an open judicial process, without political interference from any quarter — Chinese, American or Canadian.

“Ball in … play ball!”

Col. (Ret’d) William J. McCullough served six years as a reservist, followed by 31 years as a regular officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. His posts included Provost Marshal for the Canadian Forces and Director General Security for the Department of National Defence. He lives in Nanaimo.

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