Diplomacy is a dirty business. When two countries are trying to build or repair a relationship, they often resort to tactics that are illegal, immoral, mendacious or just generally offensive to our sense of what’s right and wrong.
Just ask the two Michaels.
Diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor have been in prisons in China for more than 400 days each, even though neither has been charged with a crime and the government of that country has provided no evidence that they broke any laws. They were in solitary confinement for months and haven’t had a chance to see their families, although of late they have been allowed to talk to their lawyers.
They just happened to be in the right place at the wrong time when China was looking for pawns.
As readers know, it’s accepted as fact that the two Michaels were nabbed in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou. RCMP took her into custody in Vancouver in December 2018 on a U.S. extradition warrant. The process of getting her to the U.S. so she can stand trial on charges of corporate fraud is dragging on.
It’s widely assumed that the problems of the Michaels could be resolved quickly if only Canada would set Meng free.
Here’s the dilemma: Canada has an extradition treaty with the U.S., its closest neighbour and largest trading partner. Freeing Meng would require our country to not just violate that agreement, but also allow politicians to do an end-run around the legal process. Not only is it just not how we operate, it would also put a chill on already shaky Canada/U.S. relations during the Donald Trump era.
Yet standing up to China is not an easy thing. That communist country is quickly overtaking the U.S. as the dominant world economic power. It buys our wood pulp, oil seeds and grains, ores, mineral fuels and oil, spending as much as $48 billion annually on those goods.
In short, Canadian producers have come to rely on China as both a very important market and a way to diversify our markets. As Albertans know all too well with their fossil fuels, selling goods only to the U.S. makes us price-takers – we have to take whatever price they offer us.
So it’s gut-check time. Do we stay the course with Meng, knowing full well that two innocent Canadians will pay the price – possibly by facing many more years of unwarranted incarceration? Do we stay the course, knowing that the strained relations will likely lead to further retaliation through China’s boycott of our goods? Do we stay the course, knowing that it will seriously set back our goal of market diversification?
These are painful decisions with far-reaching implications.
However, one also has to think of the consequences of giving in to China’s demands. If we were to release Meng, what would that say about our national resolve? How could we not expect that the next time a dispute arose, China wouldn’t just grab a couple more convenient hostages? Or would China be emboldened to push Canada around even more aggressively?
It reminds me of then-British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and the so-called appeasers who, from 1937 to 1940, pursued a strategy of trying to work with Adolf Hitler. They figured just one more concession might be all that was needed to satisfy the Nazi leader.
History shows us that such cowardly thinking was a tragic failure and did indeed only embolden a megalomaniac bent on world domination.
When Britain finally drew a line in the sand with Hitler, it knew that it was about to enter into a brutal war for which it was underprepared and could quite possibly lose. And yet it realized it had no choice.
Today, Canadians must also accept that appeasing China is a strategy that can’t end well. We must be prepared to stand our ground and face whatever economic and political consequences may follow.
We must be clear that China is doing many things wrong – violating its citizens’ basic human rights, steamrolling over Hong Kong and threatening the future of Taiwan.
Its 5G technology may in fact be a Trojan Horse that could compromise the security of Canada’s communications systems.
And it’s playing dirty tricks on a middle power – Canada – because it thinks it can.
It’s time to stand our ground. Do we have the leaders with the courage to do so?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tried to stay cool – ragging the puck, to use an old hockey metaphor – hoping that some break will develop if he just holds on long enough.
He can’t do that much longer. The time to take a stand is approaching fast.
Veteran political commentator Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.