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Marc Garneau has only been in his new job for a couple of days but he has already been on the receiving end of diplomatic correspondence with Chinese characteristics.
These broadsides generally consist of an admonishment for Canada to mind its own business when China wants to mistreat political opponents at home and abroad.
The one received by the new global affairs minister on Wednesday was no exception, as the Chinese government expressed its “strong dissatisfaction” and called on Canada to cancel measures taken the previous day to prohibit the importation of goods “wholly or in part produced with forced labour” in the Xinjiang region, home to one fifth of the world’s cotton production.
“Stop interfering in China’s internal affairs … so as not to cause further damages to China-Canada relations,” said a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Ottawa.
The policy developed by Garneau’s predecessor, François -Philippe Champagne, was to establish alliances with like-minded countries to protect the global rules-based system. Ironically, on the day he was shuffled, that strategy culminated with the toughest measures yet, in the form of the Xinjiang announcement.
The Trump administration, as usual, has gone its own way in dealing with China. On Wednesday, it banned all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang, over forced-labour concerns. But Garneau has indicated he will try to include the incoming Biden administration in expanding the co-operative coalition.
“The relationship between Canada and China is a very important relationship but it also has intersections with the relationship between the U.S. and China,” he said. “So, we’re going to develop in the coming weeks with the new Administration our ideas about the two Michaels and other issues that jointly affect our countries, vis-à-vis China.”
These broadsides generally consist of an admonishment for Canada to mind its own business
Garneau has not said much publicly about China but he has years of experience in international affairs.
He has extensive contacts in the U.S. from his time at NASA, where he logged nearly 700 hours in space. He was foreign affairs critic for the Liberals in opposition, co-chaired the party’s foreign advisory committee, and has had multiple international dealings in five years as transport minister.
He negotiated air transport agreements with the Chinese in 2015 and managed the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations when the Trump Administration imposed tariffs on Canada.
Trudeau realized early on that Garneau had credibility that transcended borders. When the International Olympic Committee threatened to move the World Anti-Doping Agency from Montreal, Garneau was dispatched to Paris to persuade the IOC to keep it in Canada.
Most observers agree he is a good choice in a time of geo-political flux. “He’s calm, he has ice-water in his veins, he is reasoned, well-researched and has enormous credibility,” said Andrew Leslie, his co-chair on the Liberal foreign affairs advisory committee and a former parliamentary colleague. “He’s perfect for the job.”
On China, he will be subjected to corporate pressures to repair relations to allow business to flourish.
If the Biden Administration drops the extradition request for Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, as some reports have indicated, there may be an opportunity for reconciliation – particularly if Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are released from Chinese prisons.
But Garneau is unlikely to be an enthusiastic proponent of rapprochement.
He is pragmatic but he is also a man of substance and decency. No person of principle can ignore the abuses being perpetrated by the Communist Party.
A comprehensive account of life in a Chinese “re-education” camp was published this week in The Guardian. The newspaper printed the story of Gulbahar Haitiwaji, a Uyghur from Xianjiang, who has been living in France with her family since 2006 but who was detained for two years in a re-education camp when she returned home to sign some paperwork related to her retirement.
Upon her release, she has offered a gruelling account of her “waking nightmare.”
Haitiwaji said she was subjected to Communist Party propaganda 11 hours a day in a window-less building, where there was no privacy thanks to surveillance cameras, and silence was enforced. Her critical abilities were gradually eroded by sessions that concluded with the mantra: “Long live President Xi Jinping.”
“We were worked until we were nothing more than dumb animals,” she said. Inmates were in constant fear of execution. “When the nurses grabbed my arm to vaccinate me, I thought they were poisoning me. In reality, they were sterilizing us. That was when I understood the method of the camps…was not to kill us in cold blood but to make us slowly disappear.”
The statement issued by the Chinese embassy on Wednesday, calling for Canada to reverse its new measures said that there is no forced labour in Xinjiang. The rights and interests of all workers are protected by law, it said. “There are no restrictions whatsoever on their personal freedom,” the statement said, in reference to the minority Uyghur population. “Mass arbitrary detentions are just concoctions fanned up by some U.S. and Western institutions and personnel.”
People of all ethnic groups enjoy a stronger sense of happiness and security because of the “preventative counter-terrorism and de-radicalization” measures Beijing has taken, the statement said – a line that has a strong whiff of the Nazis’ “work will set you free” slogan that was placed above the gates of their concentration camps.
It doesn’t take a wild leap of the imagination to envisage a similar kind of “re-education” is in store for anyone who opposes the Communist Party.
That thought should be the guiding principle behind Garneau’s China policy.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021