Canada on the World Stage

On December 1st, 2018, Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou at the Vancouver airport. They did so on the request of U.S. authorities, who are seeking her extradition on fraud allegations. Meng allegedly lied to American financial institutions as part of a scheme where Huawei used a shell corporation to breach U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Meng is the CFO and daughter of the founder of Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications giant that is poised to surpass Apple as the world’s largest supplier of smartphones. The company has long been criticized for its close ties to Chinese authorities.

Months before Meng was arrested, Conservatives (and some Liberal MP’s) raised national security concerns over Huawei; specifically, that the company leaves backdoor capabilities in its technology that could allow Chinese hackers to covertly intercept data or disable communications networks. A Chinese law passed in 2017 requires companies, like Huawei, to “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work.”

The United States and Australia have already banned the company from their 5G networks. Japan is also considering such a ban. Canada has not ruled out such a ban (they are awaiting the results of a national security review) but the Trudeau government has intimated that they are hesitant to do so.

Such criticism, culminating in Meng’s arrest, has clearly infuriated Beijing. China has called the arrest of Meng a “backstabbing” betrayal and warned Canada of “repercussions” and “grave consequences” should they decide to proceed with the extradition or ban the company from Canada’s 5G networks.

In response to Meng’s arrest, the Chinese Government have arrested 13 Canadians. Eight of those people have been released but several continue to be held. These include businessman Michael Kovrig and former Canadian diplomat Michael Spavor. Both were arrested arbitrarily under the guise of vague “national security” concerns. They remain in prison and have been subjected to hours of interrogation each day and received only limited consular access. This in juxtaposition to Meng who has been held under house arrest in her Vancouver mansion.

Canada has increased its travel advisory to Canadians travelling to/in China, urging them to exercise a high degree of caution, due to the risk of arbitrary arrest. This advisory prompted another flurry of bluster and warnings from Chinese officials.

This week the U.S. will formally make their extradition request to bring Meng to the United States and bring this growing diplomatic crisis to a head.

While I applaud the efforts of our diplomatic corps who are working hard to secure the release of the Canadians, and while I agree that the actions taken by China are unwarranted and unacceptable, there is still blame to be laid at the feet of the Prime Minister.

When Justin Trudeau was elected he opined to the world community that Canada was “back.” Rather than being a “compassionate and constructive voice in the world” Justin Trudeau has, instead, managed to insult or alienate many of the major players on the world stage – including China.

We all remember his disastrous trip to India, but what Canadians may not remember is Trudeau’s trip to China. Similar to his equally ineffective NAFTA renegotiations, Justin Trudeau travelled to China in 2017 in anticipation of beginning trade talks. Mr. Trudeau and his team naively demanded that any trade deal between China and Canada include non-trade-related chapters on gender and the environment. The Chinese were not amused and sent the Prime Minister packing, commenting that as a result of Canada’s “superiority and narcissism” China was in no rush to move closer to Canada.

One year later, it is clear that the Chinese still hold a grudge. Perhaps that is why, two months into this crisis Justin Trudeau still has yet to get on the phone with the Chinese President to demand the release of the Canadian prisoners. Maybe he knows that after the last time, it would not do him any good.

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