The upside of the Huawei confrontation: It’s teaching Canada to be wary of China

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Some news stories are such a big puzzle that a journalist can sit looking at a handful of pieces and not realize for a long time that they are part of a large, coherent picture.

For me, the story of the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration and recruiting of agents of influence in Canada has been just like that.

Jonathan Manthorpe, author of Claws of the Panda. He is also a former Toronto Star Queen’s Park columnist and European bureau chief.
Jonathan Manthorpe, author of Claws of the Panda. He is also a former Toronto Star Queen’s Park columnist and European bureau chief.  (Cormorant books)

Looking back now, I can see that pieces of the story began to fall into my lap when I was a political correspondent in Ontario in the early 1970s. And the hints started elbowing their way into my consciousness more persistently when I became a foreign correspondent in the late 1970s. In 1993, when I was appointed the Asia correspondent for Southam News, based in Hong Kong, the pieces came flying at me faster than I could catch them and work out how they fitted together.

So it was not until two years ago that I saw I had the full picture, and felt confident enough to sit down and write the outline for what has become my book, Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada.

What is astonishing is that just as the book was completed, the story of Meng Wanzhou and Huawei Technologies, of which she is the chief financial officer, broke.

The detention of Meng in Vancouver at the beginning of December on an extradition warrant from the U.S. Department of Justice, leans on a number of issues and themes running through the book.

So does the associated question of whether Canada should risk allowing a company closely tied to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) like Huawei to install the next generation 5G mobile communications network here. The government in Ottawa already has its own security intelligence officials warning that Huawei’s network could be a window for CCP espionage, and Canada’s allies the United States, Australia and New Zealand have already restricted the company.

What must infuriate the CCP, its diplomats and agents in Canada is that it was to avoid this sort of embarrassment that Beijing worked for 70 years or more to establish a network of friends and sympathizers in Canada.

But it is the CCP’s actions in taking hostage two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — that has shattered Beijing’s image among its Canadian friends and supporters.

Chinese police are seen patrolling in front of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing last month. A new book, Claws of the Panda, argues that the Chinese Communist Party has spent decades manipulating Canadians.
Chinese police are seen patrolling in front of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing last month. A new book, Claws of the Panda, argues that the Chinese Communist Party has spent decades manipulating Canadians.  (GREG BAKER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The Meng-Huawei affair has confronted Canadians and Beijing’s Canadian friends and supporters in politics, business and academia with the clash in values between the two societies. With the Canadian public so clearly outraged by the CCP’s actions and the nonsensical allegations being made by Beijing’s officials, even the party’s strongest Canadian supporters have no option but to retreat.

Until now, the network of Canadian supporters has worked well in Beijing’s favour. Successive Canadian governments of both main political parties have been dependable supporters of Beijing as the CCP regime emerged from the isolationism of the 1960s and 1970s, rode the waves of its commercial opening up, and now strides confidently forward as an economic and military super power.

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Ottawa’s support through diplomatic recognition in 1970, and the minimizing of criticism over the Tiananmen Square massacre, cultural genocide in Tibet and Xinjiang, and Beijing’s imperial expansion in the South China Sea has been matched by Canada’s business and academic communities.

Canadian businesses have been mesmerized by the fanciful desire to get access to the Chinese market of 1.2 billion people. So addictive has been that hope that they have been largely silent about the persistent theft of their technologies and other intellectual property by Chinese partners.

More troubling perhaps, the fixation of Canadian businesses on the China market has tended to blind them to far more promising prospects in other parts of Asia.

Something similar has happened in Canadian colleges and universities. What started as a dream in the 1970s when China opened up to Canadian scholarship has become a nightmare.

What began as a well-motivated effort to give students from China the skills they needed to develop their country has become something else. Canadian universities have become the crime scenes of technology theft, a trend that is hard to reverse as several academic institutions have become dependant on tuition revenues from Chinese students.

There is an even darker side. The CCP and its agents are determined to keep control of Chinese students here, both to dissuade them from becoming political dissidents and to marshal them to support Beijing’s causes.

The Beijing-financed Chinese cultural centres called Confucius Institutes set up in several Canadian colleges, universities and schools are essentially outposts for Beijing’s diplomats and intelligence agents to keep tabs on Chinese students.

After the Canadian Security Intelligence Service warned the academic institutions about the darker functions of these institutes, several have been closed.

The Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to control the message reaching Canadians, especially Canadians of Chinese heritage, about Beijing’s activities extends into the media.

Starting about 20 years ago, the CCP and its agents began exerting pressure on the publishers and managers of Chinese-language media in Canada. Those with other business interests in China have been particularly vulnerable to the CCP’s pressure; out of the scores of Chinese language media outlets in Canada, only a small handful present independent journalism.

Perhaps the most venal activity of CCP agents is the intimidation here in Canada of people the party considers dissidents or a threat to its continued monopoly on power.

Early in 2017, a group of Canadian organizations promoting political reform in China and Beijing’s adherence to international human rights standards prepared a report on CCP violations in Canada.

That report was presented to officials in Global Affairs Canada, CSIS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in April that year. It has become part of the joint indictment among Canada’s allies of the CCP’s predatory actions among the diaspora of people of ethnic Chinese origin.

The cover of Claws of the Panda, by Jonathan Manthorpe. Learn more at Cormorant Books.
The cover of Claws of the Panda, by Jonathan Manthorpe. Learn more at Cormorant Books.

An essential theme that I have woven through the story in Claws of the Panda is that it is Canadians of Chinese, Tibetan, Taiwanese and Uyghur origin who are the main target and victims of the CCP’s campaign of intimidation here.

What reinforces and confirms that picture is that the CCP is conducting almost exactly the same campaigns in Australia, New Zealand and the United States

In the end, I think the Huawei-Meng affair must be regarded as a positive turning point in the story of Canada-China relations. For the first time since the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949, Canada’s leaders and opinion-makers have been forced to look at Canada’s relationship with Beijing as it really is, and not as they would like it to be.

The CCP’s values and objectives are not like those of Canada and never will be. This is not an argument for Canada to disengage from China under the CCP regime. That is neither possible nor desirable.

But it is an argument for ending the naivete and wishful thinking with which China has been regarded, and address Beijing from now on in a mood of skeptical realism.

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of three books on international relations, politics and history. He has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. From 1976-1981 he worked as the Star’s Queen’s Park columnist and European bureau chief. jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada is due to be published by Cormorant Books on Feb. 2.

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Seuils d’immigration: Ottawa veut éviter une confrontation avec Québec

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Ottawa semble vouloir éviter à tout prix une confrontation avec Québec sur les seuils d’immigration même si le gouvernement caquiste prévoit une diminution en 2019 dans deux catégories d’immigrants qui relèvent du fédéral.

Le ministre des Affaires intergouvernementales, Dominic LeBlanc, a réagi mardi aux nouvelles cibles en immigration de Québec en pesant ses mots et en insistant sur la collaboration entre les deux gouvernements.

« Nous ne sommes pas surpris […], a-t-il dit. Nous sommes déçus cependant que le gouvernement, face à la pénurie de main-d’œuvre, ait décidé de réduire le nombre d’immigrants.

« Nous croyons qu’un système d’immigration qui fonctionne bien fait partie de cette solution-là, cependant la collaboration sur les questions d’immigration avec le Québec est très importante pour nous », a-t-il ajouté.

Le ministre québécois de l’Immigration, Simon Jolin-Barrette, a déposé mardi après-midi son plan pour l’année 2019. Le gouvernement caquiste prévoit recevoir environ 10 000 nouveaux arrivants de moins en 2019, dans les trois catégories, soit les immigrants économiques, les réfugiés et ceux issus du programme de réunification familiale.

Or, Québec n’a pas le pouvoir de limiter le nombre de réfugiés ni les immigrants acceptés par Ottawa pour rejoindre leur famille. Il peut seulement réduire le nombre d’immigrants économiques qui pourraient pourtant aider à atténuer la pénurie de main-d’œuvre.

Le ministre LeBlanc n’a pas voulu préciser si le geste de Québec provoquerait la réouverture de l’entente. Il a plutôt insisté sur la « relation constructive » qui existe entre les deux gouvernements depuis la signature en 1991 de l’Accord Canada-Québec. Cette entente permet au gouvernement québécois de sélectionner les nouveaux arrivants qui s’installent sur son territoire.

« Vous me connaissez assez bien, moi je ne suis pas quelqu’un qui veut me chicaner, moi je suis toujours de bonne humeur », a-t-il affirmé.

Il craint toutefois l’impact de la diminution de 2300 immigrants prévue par Québec dans la catégorie de la réunification familiale.

« On ne voudrait pas avoir un système à deux vitesses où les familles québécoises sont réunies moins vite qu’au Nouveau-Brunswick ou en Ontario, a-t-il fait valoir. Ça, ce n’est sûrement pas l’idéal. »

Il a également rappelé que le Canada a « un devoir face à la communauté internationale » pour l’accueil des réfugiés et que le gouvernement québécois avait « toujours accepté des responsabilités internationales ».

Le plan québécois contraste avec la hausse des seuils d’immigration du gouvernement Trudeau dévoilée à la fin du mois d’octobre. Le plan fédéral prévoit une augmentation graduelle du nombre d’immigrants chaque année pour atteindre 350 000 en 2021 pour l’ensemble du pays. Cela correspond à près de 1 % de la population canadienne.

Les ministres LeBlanc et Jolin-Barrette ont tous deux indiqué vouloir poursuivre les discussions déjà entamées sur cette question.

Les propos de Dominic LeBlanc font écho à ceux prononcés plus tôt dans la journée par le premier ministre Justin Trudeau, selon qui le moment est mal choisi pour réduire les seuils d’immigration en raison de la pénurie de main-d’œuvre qui sévit dans la province.

« On continue à être en discussion avec eux, mais moi ce que j’entends à travers le Québec, c’est les entrepreneurs, les entreprises préoccupées par la pénurie de main-d’œuvre, a affirmé M. Trudeau avant la réunion de son conseil des ministres, mardi matin. Je ne suis pas sûr que c’est (sic) le meilleur moment pour réduire le nombre de gens qui viennent. »

Ses paroles ont fait bondir le chef intérimaire du Bloc québécois, Mario Beaulieu.

« Ce n’est pas de ses affaires à M. Trudeau, c’est au Québec de décider de sa politique d’intégration, a-t-il tranché. Puis, la pénurie de main-d’œuvre, si on veut la régler, on serait mieux d’aller vers une régionalisation de l’immigration, une meilleure intégration de l’immigration que d’augmenter les seuils sans arrêt, sans être capables d’intégrer les nouveaux arrivants. »

Le chef conservateur Andrew Scheer s’est encore engagé à rehausser les compétences du Québec en immigration.

« Nous allons prendre le temps d’étudier le plan, mais chose certaine notre parti est ouvert à donner plus de pouvoirs aux provinces, dont le Québec, […] pour la gestion du système d’immigration », a-t-il répété.

Il n’a toutefois pas précisé s’il accepterait de lui céder le pouvoir de superviser la catégorie des réfugiés et des nouveaux arrivants issus du programme de réunification familiale.

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‘Striking’ APEC confrontation causes uncertainty ahead of G20

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The opening photo call at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit Saturday turned out to be a useful roadmap for what unfolded in Papua New Guinea’s capital this past weekend.

Front and centre in the shot: Xi Jinping. Stiff and straight, offering an authoritarian smile.

Maybe it was the alphabet that put the Chinese president in the front row (Justin Trudeau was just off-centre, to Xi’s right and the world’s left, with Chile between them.) But it’s a useful visual metaphor, so let’s continue.

Just over Xi’s left shoulder stood Vladimir Putin’s No. 2: Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev. 

Who was missing? Donald Trump’s representative. U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence’s itinerary didn’t prioritize the opening photo.

The leaders carried on without him.

The opening photo call, with China’s Xi Jinping in the front row and U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence absent, served as a sign of things to come at the 2018 APEC summit. (Aaron Favila/Associated Press)

Such was the APEC summit in 2018: the commanding presence of China driving its agenda, with an isolated United States pursuing competing goals, leaving others looking very uncomfortable.

When trade watchers marvel at the failure of this group to come up with even a general consensus statement on a few issues, they do so because this isn’t meant to be a forum for fighting.

Co-operation: it’s right there in APEC’s name.

APEC doesn’t usually get into security issues or high politics, University of British Columbia Asia specialist Yves Tiberghien said.

« This confrontation… as far as I know it was the first time, » he said. « It’s striking. »

Stark contrast to ASEAN

APEC is usually a friendly summit, where the head of the International Monetary Fund offers a briefing and affiliated business advisory councils « engage » politicians on their regional priorities.

Hot for 2018: « strengthening the digital economy » and — in an effort not to look too elite among the Maseratis ferrying VIPs around APEC’s poorest country — enabling « a more open, accessible and secure online environment, so communities and businesses of all sizes can participate. » (Canada was pleased to see an emphasis on digital privacy issues, an official said.)

Many of the leaders, Trudeau included, arrived in Port Moresby from Singapore, the host for the 2018 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia Summit talks.

The contrast was stark, even jarring: from the luxury fashion labels of a city capitalizing on its region’s fast-growing wealth, to the broken windows and tin roofs of a developing country pushed beyond its limits to host.

Holidays were declared to clear out the city for its international visitors, who were warned not to stop at roadside stands trying to attract the attention, and money, of foreigners.

« This is the biggest thing Papua New Guinea has done in their history, » said Jonathan Pryke, director of the Pacific Islands program at the Lowy Institute, a non-partisan Australian think-tank. The country has « acute development issues, » something Australia has been providing low-key help with for years, particularly in its remote and rural regions.

China winning ‘both above board and below board’

Australia’s support overall dwarfs the Chinese money that flowed into Port Moresby to ensure the summit’s success. But there was nothing subtle about China’s role: a huge Chinese gate outside the brand new Hilton Hotel, with a giant roadside banner celebrating « co-operation » and « peace, » made it pretty obvious who was paying.

Chinese aid is strategic, Pryke says, and usually followed by contracts for China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

« Corruption is a real thing here, » he said. « These SOEs don’t operate on the same playing field as a lot of Western commercial enterprises here. But they’re also competitors. So they are winning contracts both above board and below board. »

China’s presence and influence could be felt throughout Papua New Guinea’s capital city of Port Moresby during the APEC summit. (Mark Schiefelbein/AFP/Getty Images)

Extrapolate that Chinese strategy to a global scale and it gets easier to see what Donald Trump is on about, and why the Americans are so unhappy with the aspects of the World Trade Organization that enable market-distorting, state-subsidized competition.

Fundamental issues stood in the way of a final communiqué at APEC, with some countries wanting reform, and China strenuously objecting to accusations it isn’t playing by the rules laid out when it joined the WTO in 2001.

According to reports from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, China tried to strong-arm the summit’s host into the language it wanted. No dice.

This disagreement isn’t something that a few more hours, days or weeks of conversation will resolve, despite Xi’s suggestion that multilateralism — talking — is the answer to the escalating trade war that’s slapped hundreds of billions of dollars in disruptive tariffs on the world’s products.

The U.S. may be big enough for a go-it-alone, protectionist strategy, but others — Canada included — are not. Their prosperity depends on trade, and their future economic growth likely requires selling new things to China’s enormous market.

However, their security may depend on continuing to line up with the U.S. So rhetorical demands to pick sides are unwelcome.

Singapore’s prime minister said this week that ASEAN countries need a good working relationship with both China and the U.S. to thrive. The appetite to confront American trade bullying may fade in the face of security concerns, like North Korea’s nuclear program.

‘Coalition in the middle’

The road to the seat of government in Port Moresby was paved by the Chinese. But the warships in its harbour were Australian and American.

Pence turned up at APEC with a commitment to work with Australia to redevelop a naval base on Manus Island to try to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

Beyond the trade war between the U.S. and China, there’s a second confrontation underway about globalization itself, Tiberghien said.

« Clearly there is an interesting clash where the U.S. is saying ‘trade has left too many people behind’ … we have to ‘rein in trade,' » he said.

The tension between the U.S. and China was one of the biggest takeaways from the 2018 APEC summit. (Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press)

Here the U.S. is not alone: Malaysia, a Pacific Rim trade partner Trudeau also met with this weekend, has voiced similar concerns (and not ratified the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership yet.) So have populist politicians in Europe, including some of the champions of Brexit in the U.K.

It’s a « redrawing of camps, » Tiberghien said.

Trudeau’s father Pierre championed a « third way » foreign policy, hoping to diversify its relationships beyond its Commonwealth history and its geographic ties to the U.S.

Now the son finds himself in need of a third way in trade policy — if the U.S. won’t champion a multilateral trading system anymore, who will? Canada’s working with allies like the European Union, Japan and Australia on how to reinvigorate a rules-based system.

But when the G20 meets in two weeks, the fighting between the two biggest players may suck oxygen away from topics like WTO reforms.

« It’s a very tense environment for making any breakthrough, » Tiberghien said. « But on a secondary level, Canada can show a good image by saying ‘we’re here, we’re reasonable, we stand for principles, we’ll stand with partners that believe in the same principles’ and maybe, over time, build a coalition in the middle. »

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