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Kelly McParland: Canada needs more than just words in its spat with China

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to a press conference in Ottawa on Oct. 16.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to a press conference in Ottawa on Oct. 16.

Numerous headlines on Friday claimed that Canada and China were in a “war of words.” Sigh. Of course they would.

Like it or not, Canada is not a place the world looks to for decisiveness. God forbid we should take a clear stand. With us, it’s always words. Tough talk. A harsh (but not too harsh) rebuke. A slight toughening of the prime ministerial response to the latest insult.

Last week, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, got positive ratings for telling a Chinese representative that Canada “won’t forget” Beijing’s ongoing displays of diplomatic bullying. Gee, that’s nice. Does anyone think China worries what Canada remembers? China cares if Canada — or any other country — acts. And so far, as usual, we haven’t. Instead, the prime minister offered more words when responding to Beijing’s latest outpouring of threats and bile, this time from China’s diplomatic representative in Ottawa.

“We will stand up loudly and clearly for human rights,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted. “Whether it’s talking about the situation faced by the Uighurs, whether it’s talking about the very concerning situation in Hong Kong, whether it’s calling out China for its coercive diplomacy.” Yes, fearlessly we will talk!

Now’s a good time to change that sorry practice, before China extends its aggressive activities into even more dangerous territory and forces other governments to respond in kind. Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported Sunday that China was stepping up its militarization of its southeast coastline, “as it prepares for a possible invasion of Taiwan.” Missile bases are being upgraded and the army’s most advanced missiles were moved in, the paper claimed .

Official Chinese media have released videos showing extensive military exercises simulating an invasion, while Beijing denounced plans for a joint United States-Japanese-Canadian military operation involving 46,000 troops and simulated amphibious landings. U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien urged Taipei to prepare for a possible invasion . Some analysts believe a chaotic post-election period in Washington would be a perfect time for China to strike.

That still seems unlikely, given that China, for all its buildup, couldn’t hope to take on the U.S. military, much less a Western alliance with Japan, India and just about every other country in the region, few of which outside North Korea look on Chinese expansionism with anything but alarm. Once the sort of nationalistic fervour now permeating China’s leadership takes hold, however, halting it grows increasingly difficult.

The Second World War might have been avoided if the powers capable of short-circuiting Germany’s rearmament hadn’t been reluctant to act while there was still time. The Cuban Missile Crisis resulted from Moscow concluding that the young American president was an inexperienced weakling who would avoid confrontation. Only when President John F. Kennedy blockaded the island and warned of war did the Soviet leadership back down.

China is already moving deeper into the byways of belligerence. Its ambassador to Canada issued a blunt threat last week that the safety of 300,000 Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong could be threatened if Ottawa should dare grant them asylum. To Beijing, Hong Kong people opposed to China’s crackdown on basic rights are “violent criminals” rather than ordinary people who are frightened of being subject to Communist tyranny.

The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that Chinese officials have repeatedly warned Washington that they will begin locking up Americans in China, as they have Canada’s two Michaels, in retaliation for increased U.S. action against Chinese scientists who are supposedly in the U.S. to conduct academic research, but failed to disclose their close links to the People’s Liberation Army.

Beijing is also now resorting to ritual public humiliation, of the sort notoriously used during Mao Zedong’s disastrous Cultural Revolution. When 64-year-old Alexandra Wong , nicknamed “Grandma Wong,” dared wave a British flag at a Hong Kong protest, she was arrested, forced to denounce her beliefs and paraded through China on a “patriotic tour,” waving a Chinese flag and singing the national anthem.

As unlikely as armed conflict may seem, the longer the international community delays the launch of a co-ordinated containment strategy of the type that stifled the Soviet Union, the more China will push the envelope. Ottawa is not oblivious to the danger. The ambassador’s outburst last week may have been prompted by Canada’s involvement in the U.S.-Japan exercise. Recently, a Canadian Navy frigate sailed through the Taiwan Strait, much to Beijing’s displeasure.

Yet half measures won’t work against a regime that’s as set on inflating its global influence as China’s is. Until recently, Trudeau remained convinced that China’s leadership could be soft-soaped into a closer trade relationship, notwithstanding its egregious violations of human rights, its indifference to international legal mores and its determined theft of intellectual property.

Canadian business interests remain so keen on profiting from China’s vast market that they held a gala at the Four Seasons hotel in Beijing to mark 50 years of shared activities, only to have the room erupt in applause when a Communist official launched yet another diatribe against Canada’s detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Conservatives have brought forth two items to be debated Tuesday in Ottawa, calling for sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the Hong Kong crackdown and a ban on Huawei participating in Canada’s 5G communications network. The Tories are on the right track in proposing action in place of more words. It’s the least we could do to show some spine to an increasingly dangerous and threatening regime.

National Post

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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