Griffith: What individual Canadians and organizations should do about China

My latest:

How should Canadians react to Chinese government actions?

With justified criticism regarding Chinese government repression of its Uighur minority, imposition of the Hong Kong security law, the hostage-taking of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in retaliation for the U.S. extradition request regarding Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and escalation with Taiwan and the Indian border dispute, the focus has understandably been on protesting these belligerent actions.

To provide pressure for change, consumers should ask whether there are viable non-Chinese substitutes available for the products they seek, and consider shifting their purchasing accordingly. Given the pervasiveness of Chinese-made goods, consumers should distinguish between those assembled in China and those branded as Chinese. For example, should consumers purchase Huawei devices given that the detention of the two Michaels is directly related to the detention of Meng Wanzhou?  Foodstuffs provide another opportunity to switch to non-Chinese suppliers, given Chinese government targeting of Canadian agriculture exports.

Users of Chinese social media sites such as WeChat, Weibo and TikTok, or sites with China-based servers, may also wish to reconsider their use.

Individuals need to reconsider attendance at events hosted by the Chinese Embassy and consulates, or where Chinese diplomats are key speakers without another speaker invited to counter their aggressive talking points. This applies also to elected officials, given the business-as-usual signals that their presence at such events sends. If attendance is required, any speaking notes should include Canadian concerns regarding Chinese government actions: bilateral (the two Michaels) and general (Hong Kong, Uighurs).

Alternately, individuals should consider showing visible signs of protest at such events, such as turning their backs, carrying protest signs, or asking pointed questions.

Similarly, should Canadian non-governmental organizations invite Chinese diplomats to speak at events, given the questionable value of hearing belligerent talking points and the unlikelihood of open and free dialogue? And if so, can organizations structure events that include critical voices regarding Chinese government actions as a requirement of participation?

Should Canadian media run Chinese diplomat opinion pieces without corresponding rebuttals or commentary?

Organizations — academic, think-tanks or business — need to ask themselves harder questions regarding the objectives of their collaboration, and the nature of the organization they are collaborating with. Is Chinese government funding involved, or gifts? Will collaboration be portrayed as endorsement, and will be an open exchange of perspectives? In particular, organizations should be cautious of collaboration with entities that are part of the United Front, the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign influence arm.

Educational institutions and academics that have agreements with Confucius Institutes or other Chinese government organizations have to ask whether these undermine the values of the educational institution. Institutions may need to review their conflict-of-interest codes regarding academics accepting Chinese government funding. All should recognize that gifts often play a political role and thus should be treated with caution.

And to reiterate, any such action needs to be carefully focused on the Chinese government, not Chinese-Canadians or Chinese people. Unfortunately, Chinese-Canadians have been subject to racist attacks during the pandemic; proposing the actions I suggest places the focus where it should be: on the actions of the Chinese regime.

At the same time, we also need to recognize that some Chinese-Canadians have attachment to the People’s Republic of China, related both to their home culture as well as pride in China’s increased importance. The former is not at issue, the latter, combined with the Chinese regime’s diaspora and geo-political strategies, is – and that makes targeted messaging even more important.

While many of these actions I propose may appear as “virtue signalling,” given the power imbalance between Canada and China, not acting would be a missed opportunity to send a message to Chinese government officials that their public diplomacy, as pointed out by Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton, is counterproductive and not supported by most Canadians.


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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