What is the Canadian government to do in response to China’s recent aggressive moves against it? In retaliation for the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, the Chinese government has arbitrarily detained two Canadian citizens since last December, and more recently, a Chinese court suddenly changed a Canadian man’s drug smuggling sentence from 15 years imprisonment to execution.
The Canadian justice system, after all, appears to have done everything by the book, respecting its extradition process with the US while acting independently from government influence. In spite of this, it appears as though little can be done except backchannel and wait, a solution that is void of any satisfaction and that has yet to yield fruit in this ongoing conflict.
The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are fundamental features of a free society, and since Meng’s arrest many politicians have been trying to explain this fact to the Chinese government, as though it simply doesn’t understand, and as though it may suddenly realise its error and free Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. It’s rather doubtful, however, that the Chinese government needs a lesson on the basic structures of free societies. While China has experienced massive transformations over the last few decades, it has actively resisted the emergence of such structures, so it well knows the Canadian government’s limitations in this matter. What, then, is it trying to accomplish, and does it not realise that its overreaction merely strengthens suspicions that Huawei is facilitating foreign intelligence gathering on its behalf?
Much has been said and written about the emergence of China as a major player on the world stage. While it pragmatically turned its back on the centrally-planned economy, one of the fundamental elements of communism, and while it successfully lifted millions of people out of poverty in the process, it has regretfully retained the other fundamental element of communism, the totalitarian style of government. The free world once hoped that by increasing relations with China, alterations would eventually be made in its political structures in addition to its economic ones. The idea was that China would eventually come to look a little more like the free world, perhaps with limits on state power, a system of checks and balances, and an independent judiciary with due process.
China’s latest actions against Canada, however, suggest that such a hope is but an evaporating dream, and that the very opposite is threatening to take place. In the immediate aftermath of Meng’s arrest, Vice Foreign Minister, Le Yucheng, warned of “severe consequences” if Canada didn’t release her immediately. Armed with the largest economy in the world, this totalitarian government is pressuring Canada to do away with its judicial independence. China wants Canada, and the entire free world by extension, to look more like it, and it is not afraid to use its clout in an attempt to make that happen.
While back-channelling may be the only card Canada has to play in the short-term, there is certainly something more to be done in the long-term. As Canada continues to bring this matter to the attention of its allies, it should point out that this is much more than an isolated diplomatic incident; this is a confrontation with a rising political force that has no regard for the foundational values of the free world and the domestic institutions that protect them, and that any nation that chooses to do business with China is at risk of having to play by its rules, whatever the cost may be.
The free world shouldn’t permit this form of aggression, and it must be bold in protecting and asserting its way of life. Given China’s increasing clout, and given its increasing predisposition to use it, the free nations of the world would do well to formally unite in the face of it, and Canada can certainly play a leading role in making that happen. It must be clear that while friendly relationships are indeed desirable, free nations will not compromise their institutions to appease the bullies of the world, and that any attempt to impose such a thing will have consequences of its own.