John McKay: A made-in-Canada policy on China is a fantasy
Canada’s only avenue is to join with like-minded nations so that when flashpoints occur, costs will be imposed on the CCP

Author of the article:John McKay, Special to National Post
Published Jul 17, 2023 • Last updated 1 hour ago • 5 minute read

For decades now, Canada has pursued an engagement strategy with the Communist Party of China with the hope that “trade together, stay together” and mutual economic interest would foster positive relations. However, it is clear that, in spite of friendly overtures made by western nations, including Canada, China continues to pursue an aggressive, expansionist policy with little regard for the national interests or security of others.

As Winston Churchill once said, “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.”

A bullyboy is defined as a blustering, browbeating person, especially when that bully is 1.) habitually cruel, 2.) insulting, or 3.) threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable.

The evidence of bullying by Beijing is overwhelming.

One, cruelty: enslavement of Uyghurs; organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners; the long-standing abuses against Tibetans, destruction of Christian places of worship, the “disappearance” of human rights activists, and much more.

Two, insulting: witness the public insult to our country and our prime minister referring to Canada as a “running dog” and Mr. Trudeau as a “boy”; the arbitrary arrest of our citizens and those of other nations such as Japan, in addition to pretty well any statement made by a “wolf warrior” Chinese diplomat.

Three, threatening others: police stations located on our own soil designed solely to intimidate diaspora communities; economic coercion of smaller, weaker nations from Sri Lanka to Solomon Islands to numerous African nations.

What’s not included in this definition is blatant theft of intellectual property and of resource property; penetration into Canadian civil society through Confucius Institutes; spy balloons over North American airspace and surveillance buoys planted in the arctic; insertion of malware into electronic supply lines; and the use of slave labour to sell us cheap goods that undermine domestic producers and workers.

The only strategy that is left works on the assumption that China will continue to be a bully, and no agreement, no treaty, and no contract based on any trust will be worth the paper it’s written on. After this less than exhaustive litany of tactics, there are still some who think that there is some strategy of cooperation to be articulated. There is no dialogue with a “competitor” when your interlocutor acts in bad faith, uses theft to achieve its aims, conducts blatant espionage operations, engages in hostage diplomacy, and is a serial abuser of basic human rights. China is on the way to becoming an existential threat to Canada and other like-minded nations that conduct their affairs by the rule of law and democratic norms. We need to ditch our current strategy because it is based on the hope that China might adhere to the rules.

So, what’s next? The strategy that’s in the ditch is not a good starting point. Clear-eyed means just that — that there is no strategy other than no engagement that doesn’t have an exit plan with minimum cost when it inevitably goes bad. And it’s not if it goes bad, but when it goes bad. Leaving yourself, your company, or your government vulnerable in any manner is just foolishness.

Regrettably, nations and people are going to have to pick sides, regardless of how unpalatable the choice might be. The golden glitter of access to the Chinese economy can turn into a dismal dross of disappointment in a flash. It’s amazing how many of us can convince ourselves that the risks are small when the anticipated financial payoff is big.

A policy built on hope of financial reward, either short- or long-term, is one of vulnerability, high risk, and deep disappointment. Smart money is getting out of China while there is still time. When a delegation of MPs was in Taiwan recently, we were told that Taiwanese companies were withdrawing their investments and relocating to other less vulnerable jurisdictions.

A made-in-Canada policy on China is a fantasy exercise built on hubris. Canada’s only avenue is to join up with like-minded nations so that when, not if, flashpoints occur, costs will be imposed on the CCP. The coordinated response by Canada and like-minded nations to the kidnapping of the two Michaels is an example of the way future diplomacy will have to be practiced.

Canada should also make it abundantly clear that China will never be admitted to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) this year, or any other year. What foolishness it would be to allow a nation into an economic treaty arrangement whose sole goal would be to destroy the trade agreement. China’s repurposing of the WTO toward its own ends should be enough evidence of that for anyone.

A Canadian senior executive at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Bob Pickard, said as he resigned from the AIIB last month, “I was still scratching my head, wondering what it is I could communicate to my compatriots about the value of their membership in the bank. And I was looking for that narrative, but there was nothing there. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.” Pickard was warned not to return to China. “From a country where the two Michaels were kidnapped by the government, we’re maybe a little more sensitive or concerned about such things,” he said.

More and more Canadian entities are ruefully coming to the same conclusion — there is nothing in it for us.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, in reacting to Pickard’s departure, started to articulate a more realistic strategy: “As the world’s democracies work to de-risk our economies, by limiting our strategic vulnerabilities to authoritarian regimes, we must likewise be clear about the means through which these regimes exercise their influence around the world.”

Canada needs to review its strategic position vis-à-vis countries like Taiwan. Taiwan’s interests are becoming much more aligned with our own and yet we continue to pursue a One China Policy.

How long can this policy last as the basis for dealing with Taiwan, our 12th largest trading partner? How long can a One China Policy last when Taiwan fights for itself and for Western democracies each and every day?

American Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently completed two days of talks with Xi Jinping with no obvious outcomes. The best that can be said is that the Chinese diplomats didn’t engage in their usual hectoring and lecturing. One supposes that to be progress.

An updated China strategy needs to take into account these realities.

While some more vulnerable nations hastily embraced the siren song of a peer-to-peer relationship with China, they now have the luxury of time to regret their hasty decision. The allure of a countervail against the West, particularly Europe and the U.S. is proving to be very costly. Exchanging one form of colonialism for an even more egregious one is not progress.

What is required is a fundamental shift in attitude and a refocusing on our national interests and security in the face of a growing superpower that has shown continued hostility to our nation and our allies. Hope is not a policy.

John McKay is the Liberal Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood and is the Chair of the House of Commons Committee on National Defence and the Canadian Co-Chair of the Canada-U.S. Permanent Joint Board on Defence.