It’s time Canada stood up to more bullies besides Trump. China, for instance.

Alan Freeman’s piece, written before foreign minister Champagne’s announcement that Canada abandons free-trade talks with China in shift for Trudeau government raises valid comparisons with Australia’s approach:

Sometimes it pays to stand up to a bully. It’s time Canada made a habit of it.

This week, hours before Canada was about to impose tariffs on a range of U.S. products in retaliation for the Trump administration’s imposition of a 10 per cent tariff on Canadian exports of aluminum, the U.S. caved.

The U.S. tariff was cancelled, and though U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer insisted Washington hadn’t backed down, and the tariffs could be reimposed if Canada didn’t behave itself and restrict exports of the metal in future, it was clear that Canada had won this battle.

The imposition of the aluminum tariff was an absurdity from the start, one that seemed to benefit only a few well-connected aluminum producers and to anger everyone else in the U.S. industry. Yet credit still has to go to the Trudeau government and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland for standing tough all the way through.

A similar no-nonsense approach was essential to the renegotiation of NAFTA, an unnecessary exercise prompted by U.S. President Donald Trump, which only had downsides for Canada at the outset. The fact that the new Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade pact doesn’t seem much different from the old one has to be seen as a victory. It could have been a lot worse.

Although Trump has shown his dislike of Trudeau on several occasions — there’s hardly a democratically elected world leader Trump hasn’t tussled with — it hasn’t meant Canada has been so worried about Trump’s volatility that it’s been willing to back down on trade and other issues, which is a good thing. The basic message is that we value our relationship with the U.S., but we won’t be pushed around.

If only Canada could show more of this backbone when dealing with China. Although the Trudeau government has been firm in its reaction to the suspension of freedoms in Hong Kong, and continues to insist on the liberation of the two kidnapped Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, it still seems reluctant to respond outspokenly to Chinese excesses.

When it comes to standing up to China, Canada should look at Australia. It’s much more dependent on China than Canada is, with China accounting for one-third of Australia’s exports, including huge quantities of coal, iron ore and agricultural products. And Australia depends on big influxes of Chinese university students and tourists to bolster its economy.

Yet relations are tense, because the Australian government is wary of Chinese efforts to influence — some say infiltrate — Australian universities and political life. In June, Australia’s intelligence services are reported to have raided the homes of four Chinese journalists resident in Australia, as well as of a state legislator whose office was suspected of being used to influence Australian politics.

The four journalists have since returned to China, and the visas of two Chinese academics have been cancelled, but not before China had struck back. Chinese police recently conducted midnight interrogations of two prominent Australian journalists in China, who were forced to seek refuge at Australian diplomatic facilities before fleeing the country.

And in what looks like a repeat of the abduction of the two Michaels, TV news anchor Cheng Lei, a star of CGTN, a Chinese government-owned English TV network in Beijing, was detained last month and is being held for suspected “criminal activity endangering China’s national security.” The Chinese-born journalist is an Australian citizen.

Relations between China and Australia have been deteriorating for years, but what appears to have really upset Beijing was the call in April by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Not only has China cracked down on journalists in retaliation, but it has launched a series of trade actions targeting Australian exports of barley and beef. China has also started an anti-dumping probe against Australian wine — shades of China’s moves against Canadian canola and pork.

When it comes to Huawei, the Australians have already acted, banning the Chinese technology giant from its 5G networks, while Canada continues to prevaricate. It seems at times that the Trudeau government is wishing it would all go away, including the U.S. extradition request for Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive arrested in Vancouver in December 2018.

While trade tensions haven’t eased, Australia has at least made clear that it won’t be intimidated. Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Duncan has said about the latest row over journalists that “Australia will defend its core values and principles, such as adherence to the rule of law, press freedom and democracy.”

And the Australian government has armed itself with a series of laws that defend against foreign interference in its political institutions. Just last month, the government proposed federal legislation that would require any foreign agreements signed by states, local governments and universities to be first approved by the central government. The bill seemed aimed specifically at agreements with China.

It follows adoption of federal legislation in 2018 that criminalizes foreign interference in Australian government, including covert, deceptive actions or threats aimed at democratic institutions or providing intelligence to overseas governments.

Because the Chinese economic and political presence is so much more important to Australia than it is to Canada, there is none of the naiveté that still seems to influence Canadian attitudes toward China. As the Globe and Mail has reported this week, Huawei is keen to cash in on those gullible China-sympathetic “influencers,” including one-time politicians and academics who’ve been pressing Ottawa for a prisoner swap to free the two Michaels, so far without success.

Let’s hope that Freeland, with her influence in the Trudeau cabinet at an all-time high, will succeed in convincing her colleagues that Canada needs to stand up to an even bigger bully than Donald Trump. It will take a lot of backbone.

Source: It’s time Canada stood up to more bullies besides Trump. China, for instance.

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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