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The idea of a musketeer arrangement with other like-minded countries when dealing with China might appeal to our theatrical prime minister.
That suggestion, for creating a new counterweight to China, was advanced Monday by Stephen Nagy, a Canadian academic who teaches at the International Christian University in Tokyo and is a fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation and was appointed a China expert with Canada’s China Research Partnership.
Trudeau doesn’t have the d’Artagnan style-musketeer beard he once sported, but the principle of “one for all and all for one” may resonate with his multilateral convictions.
Nagy told MPs on a parliamentary committee that Canada needs to think seriously about enhanced co-operation with other middle powers when dealing with China, and that they should collectively lobby the United States to adopt a more multilateral approach.
Any understanding should include a “musketeer clause” in trade agreements to ensure a collective response to the economic coercion of one member, Nagy said.
In the wake of last week’s court decision upholding the extradition of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou to the U.S., and the expected further retaliation from China, the idea of “resilience through new partnerships” has value.
Nagy suggested any such agreements that included rules-based countries like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand would offer symmetry to engagement with China and counter its “asymmetric advantages.”
Nagy said China’s initial response to COVID-19 revealed a systemic problem in decision-making under Xi Jinping’s authoritarian rule.
In the early days of the outbreak, Chinese authorities downplayed the severity of the virus and were then forced to lock-down the city of Wuhan and the province of Hubei, which affected global supply chains.
The lessons for Canada of the pandemic include the need to diversify supplies of personal protective equipment, medical devices and certain pharmaceuticals, said Nagy. This “selective de-coupling” from China offers opportunities for increased co-operating with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region, he said.
Nagy drew a distinction between redefining the engagement with China and withdrawing from the relationship.
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis questioned the wisdom of Canada’s involvement in the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank.
But Nagy defended the Liberal government’s investment in the bank. “There is an important saying, ‘if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’ Any participation means Canadian values and interests are represented,” he said.
Countries like Germany, France and Britain are also working as force-multipliers to ensure the bank is not an instrument of the Communist Party, he said. The bank has 78 members and China controls 26 per cent of the voting shares.
Nagy said challenges like climate change and future pandemics require dialogue with China.
But he said we have entered a “very different period” in international relations, where China is using punitive tactics to shape the behaviour of middle powers like Canada. Nagy said he anticipates more questionable enforcement of domestic regulations on Canadian agricultural exports from Chinese officials and more paperwork when it comes to visas.
With Meng still in custody in British Columbia, and Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig still in detention in China, tensions with China are not likely to ease any time soon.
Nagy suggested bilateral tensions may also be exacerbated by Chinese intimidation in Taiwan and Hong Kong. He said Taiwan has managed COVID well and held a successful election that will increase pressure in Beijing to “reunify” Taiwan to the Chinese mainland.
China wants to be not just rich but powerful
In Hong Kong, he said he expects the 31 st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4 to prompt huge protests in the territory.
Friction in the East China Sea with Japan is matched by bad blood with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea.
It may be that Beijing is acting increasingly assertive abroad to compensate for concerns about slowing economic growth, lack of a social safety net, pollution and corruption at home.
But whatever the explanation, China appears to be on a collision course with a number of its near neighbours. The “hide and bide” policy propounded by Deng Xiaoping has been replaced by Xi’s naked determination to change the international system. China wants to be not just rich but powerful.
It certainly raises the stakes for an “one for all and all for one” approach. And Canada is more likely to find a new balance with China if it teams up with others in its own weight class.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020