After more than two years of rocky relations with Beijing, the liberals have offered little on the election campaign on how they will handle future relations with China, while the conservatives have presented a plan that could lead to retaliation from the Chinese government against Canada.

The Canada-China relationship, which has yet to become a focal point of the elections, has faltered since Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the US government on December 1, 2018, followed by the Chinese arrests of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in apparent retaliation.

While the Conservatives have referred to China 31 times in their platform, with a handful of additional references to Beijing and the Chinese Communist Party, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) And the Liberals only have one reference to China in a policy section on responding to “unacceptable behavior” by authoritarian regimes, which also takes note of Russia and Iran.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole (Durham, Ont.) Has championed a new approach to Canada’s relations with Beijing. His party’s platform describes a government that shifts China’s trade priorities, recognizes China’s persecution of Uyghurs as genocide, targets Chinese foreign influence operations in Canada, bans Huawei from China’s 5G infrastructure. Canada, would sanction China’s “worst human rights violators”, withdraw Canada from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, support democracy advocates in Hong Kong, and have “greater political cooperation” with Taiwan.

The NDP platform promises, if it forms the government, that the party would “stand up” to China with a “strong and coherent strategy” to defend Canadian interests, and that it would work with international allies to ” lead a strong and coordinated international response to the crisis in China. contempt for the rule of law. “

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau has been responsible for managing Canada’s relations with China since taking office in January. Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Neither the Bloc Québécois nor the Green Party discusses the Canada-China relationship in their platforms.

Without highlighting China by name or the cases of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, the liberal platform seeks to continue the government’s work on the declaration against arbitrary detention in state-to-state relations. The Canadian-led declaration has been endorsed by 65 countries and the European Union.

Former Canadian Ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques, who served in Beijing from 2012 to 2016, said the decision not to highlight Canada-China relations in the liberal platform is a thinking about how he handled his relationship with the growing superpower.

Given what is known about the “dark side” of China’s behavior, its crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, its persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, its increased pressure on Taiwan and the mismanagement of COVID-19 from the start. , Saint-Jacques said Canadians would expect all parties to have “well-developed” policies on China.

“We are at a stage where we clearly need a revised engagement strategy,” he said.

“I would have hoped the Liberals would have been more aggressive in their agenda. Maybe they just concluded it’s best to keep silent on this issue [so] Canadians would not pay attention, ”he said The times of the hills during a telephone interview.

“Because the crisis with China has been going on for so long, all parties have had a lot of time to think about this issue,” Saint-Jacques said. “On the question of China, I have the impression that Trudeau is lost at sea. He did not understand China when he became Prime Minister… the arrest of the Michaels was a rude awakening and he was in catch-up mode. But again, he doesn’t seem to know where to go.

He added that Trudeau should come up with a policy on what issues Canada stands for in its dealings with China and what the strategy will look like, noting that Ottawa may be more forceful on China as Beijing relies on Canadian exports. .

Former Tory staff member Rick Roth, who was communications director for then Foreign Secretary John Baird, said the plan Mr. O’Toole presented is a “very thoughtful and detailed plan” that can be compared to that of the Liberals. .

“For [Mr. O’Toole], it will be a question of leadership on the world stage. That’s the premise of how he wants to present himself against Justin Trudeau, ”said Roth, now vice president of global public affairs.

Mr Roth said the Liberals’ lack of attention to the issue is recognition that foreign policy has not been their “strong suit”.

“It’s definitely a recognition that they’ve kind of lost their way on foreign policy and there needs to be a bit of a reset,” he said.

He also noted that the government has more responsibilities to conduct diplomatic affairs behind the scenes, which Mr. O’Toole is not responsible for. “He can be a lot more direct in his rhetoric. He can be much sharper in his criticism of other countries. And it can be much more detailed in the actions it would take, ”Mr. Roth said.

Mr Roth said he did not expect the issue of Canada-China relations to be the focal point of the remaining days of the campaign, unless there was a development in Ms case. Meng. But he said that if a question is asked on the topic in both debates, Mr O’Toole will use it as an opportunity to show the need for a change of direction on the world stage and to contrast it with some of the Foreign Affairs of Mr. Trudeau. political failures, such as the inability to secure the release of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor after more than 1,000 days of detention in China.

Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu said The times of the hills on August 25, that some Canadian politicians put “personal political interests” above Canada-China relations.

Chinese Ambassador Cong Peiwu said some politicians put “personal political interests” ahead of Canada-China relations. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia

While stressing that China adheres to the principle of “non-interference in internal affairs” and that it “will not comment or interfere” in the Canadian elections, Mr. in China or smear China.

When asked if this was a reference to the Conservative Party, he added: “Some people put their personal political interests above the interests of the Canadian people as a whole and hype problems related to China.

Former Canadian diplomat Gordon Houlden, director emeritus of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, said if the Conservatives formed a government and their plan was fully implemented, it would be a “revolution” in relations. Canada-China.

He noted that some commitments, such as carbon tariffs, will be difficult to implement due to World Trade Organization obligations. He added that disrupting supply chains with China would require laws with “a lot of bite”, which would effectively lead to a lot of government interference in the free market.

“China is not a country that lacks its own retaliatory powers,” said Houlden, who was the director general of the East Asia Bureau at the then-appointed Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. international.

He added that some of the policies promised by the conservatives could meet with a “pretty powerful response from the Chinese side.”

He said he was surprised the Liberals did not give more details on their plans for Canada’s relations with China, especially after the Conservatives presented such a detailed plan.

“I think they may feel a little vulnerable to China because they haven’t been able to resolve the two Michaels issue,” he said, noting that he didn’t think that Canada-China relations would play a major role in the campaign.

Outgoing Liberal MP Ken Hardie (Fleetwood-Port Kells, BC), who has served two terms in the House since 2015, said that by knocking on the door he heard many different views on Canada’s relations with China, of those who align with the views of the Chinese government and those who oppose it.

“There are clearly people who live here… who tend to be more in touch with mainland China, with the Chinese government. And there are others who go so far as to be very afraid of them, ”said Mr. Hardie, member of the Canada-China Legislative Association.

“We hear it all said that we shouldn’t have supported the United States in detaining Meng Wanzhou because it was just the wrong thing to do, until [those who] are really worried about the influence that China and the Chinese government seem to have in our communities, ”he said.

Jocelyn Coulon, former political advisor to former Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion and author of Canada is not back: how Justin Trudeau is above his head on foreign policy, said the Conservative Party should give serious thought to Canada’s relations with China and not come up with a sanctions list that no other country in the Western world would join.

He said the conservatives’ policies towards China were “too excessive”, noting that European countries had made it clear to the Biden administration that they did not want a confrontation with China.

Outgoing Conservative Michael Chong has been a vocal critic of China in the House of Commons. Hill Times archival photography

“When you look at the conservative platform, you see a party that almost wants to sever diplomatic ties with China,” he said, noting that they should have come up with a “much more responsible” response on the relationship. .

He said if the Tories formed government, the policies set out in the platform would “certainly” result in retaliation from Beijing, especially with regard to policies on Taiwan.

“There is an understanding in the western world that you have to move very cautiously on the Taiwan issue,” he said.

“I understand that the conservatives are angry with what is happening between the two countries, but at the same time, if you want to lead this country and want to engage in the international arena, you have to pay attention to the relationship with China, He said, adding that Canada must act in tandem with its allies.

Mr. Coulon noted that the Liberals are silent in their platform on the relationship because they are concerned about the future of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.

He said that at a minimum the Liberals should have taken a similar approach to the NDP in their platform on China. “But I don’t know why they chose hardly to talk about China,” he said.

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The times of the hills


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