Terry Glavin: COVID-19: Beware the wartime propaganda as we battle this plague

On the lack of checks and balances regarding Chinese government propaganda:

It’s a terribly imperfect metaphor, and it’s already something of a cliché, but fair enough, too. The global struggle with the disaster of the coronavirus that first emerged last December in the Chinese city of Wuhan is, without question, something very much like war. And almost everybody who’s saying so is relying on pretty well the same formulation.

U.S. President Donald Trump has lately fashioned himself as a ‘wartime president,” determined to defeat a “horrible, invisible enemy.” French President Emmanuel Macron: “We are at war. The enemy is invisible and it requires our general mobilization.” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis: “We are at war with an enemy that is invisible, but not invincible.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “This is a battle for public health … We are at war with an invisible enemy.”

So yes, fair enough. But we should be very careful that we don’t allow the confines of approved terminology and the banalities of official diction to leave us unmoored from the objective realities of the crisis we’ve all found ourselves stumbling through. Because that’s how colossally stupid public policy mistakes get made. It’s also how the powerful get away with occluding the truth and telling outright lies.

It’s how the powerful get away with occluding the truth

The official exertions dozens of nation states are taking to deal with the calamity of the virus are of the kind that are ordinarily made only in wartime. After all, in Canada’s case the statutory antecedent of the Emergencies Act, which Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is quite sensibly considering as a “last resort,” is the War Measures Act, which was invoked only once after the Second World War, during the October Crisis of 1970.

Naming the enemy precisely would help. And this is where things have already got off to a shabby and slightly sinister start.

Strictly speaking, the enemy is not COVID-19, as the disease has come to be named by the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases group, “covi” being the short form of coronavirus, and ‘d” for disease, and 19 for 2019. It’s true enough that the herculean medical research efforts required to find effective treatments for the disease, and of course to develop a vaccine — an undertaking which is expected to take at least a year to complete — should put us all on a war footing. And that effort deserves the rapid marshalling of public resources and whatever measures are necessary to keep our hospitals from crashing and ensuring the safety and security of public health workers.

But the “invisible enemy” that’s showing up in the speeches of presidents and prime ministers, the thing that has forced wartime-type lockdowns and curfews and social mobilization, is the virus that causes the disease. The virus was named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses. The SARS bit in the name comes from the virus’s genetic relation to the virus associated with the SARS outbreak of 2003.

It was perfectly sensible that “Wuhan virus” immediately and quite innocently emerged in the language of common speech, in China and elsewhere, But nobody wants their hometown named after a killer virus, and WHO guidelines are averse to the association of viruses with specific countries. So SARS-CoV-2 it was, and not “China virus.” For naming purposes it didn’t and shouldn’t have mattered that 99 per cent of all the eruptions from the virus at the time were occurring in China.

But then the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda machinery kicked in. Faced with a population disaffected to a degree without precedent since the time of the nationwide pro-democracy insurrections that were crushed in the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, the CCP’s braintrust began to circulate lurid fictions to the effect that the virus didn’t originate in China at all, but was rather somehow smuggled into Wuhan by the U.S military.

The CCP’s braintrust began to circulate lurid fictions to the effect that the virus didn’t originate in China at all

The CCP was also keen on following Xi Jinping’s Feb. 3 instruction to recast China’s police-state efficiencies as the solution to the world’s hardships, and to recast Xi himself as a global medical-supply benefactor rather than the cold-blooded villain sensible people understand him to be. Because of all this, the regime’s state media and several senior propaganda ministry officials and diplomats were particularly determined to lay in an ambuscade for Trump over his use of the provocatively vulgar term “China virus.”

This all may seem trivial and petty, but it’s worth taking a moment here to notice a couple of things about the way wartime propaganda works.

The first thing is the classic strategy of exploiting divisions and anxieties in an enemy population in order to weaken public resolve and undermine the enemy’s leadership. If you don’t think the CCP sees the U.S.-led global order and the institutions of liberal democracy as the enemy, you simply haven’t been paying attention. And if you don’t think the Chinese Communist Party intends to exploit the coronavirus disaster as an opportunity to advance its interests against its enemies around the world, you’re not taking the CCP at its own word.

It’s the democratic world’s ill luck that the inflammation of domestic divisions and anxieties just happens to be both the cause and the purpose of Trumpism itself, and a significant body of American opinion will not grant Trump the time of day. Neither does it help matters that the Americans are in the bitter throes of an election year, when they all tend to give the impression of being at one another’s throats at the best of times.

The second thing is that controlling the terminology of the conflict and the subversion of vocabulary are crude wartime propaganda methodologies, and Beijing is taking matters to absurd extremes, with its ambassadors around the world instructing everyone in what we are allowed to say and how we are allowed to say it.

China’s embassy in Peru, for instance, has initiated a thuggish attack on the celebrated Peruvian novelist and Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, a former president of PEN International, owing to a March 14 essay Llosa wrote in the Spanish national newspaper El Pais. Llosa merely noted that the coronavirus originated in Wuhan, and that the Chinese authorities had suppressed early efforts to alert the public about the disease — a catastrophic error that a free society would not so readily make.

The embassy went so far as to deny that the virus even originated in China, and admonished Llosa for having the cheek to criticize the Chinese government. Immediately, Llosa’s novels started getting pulled from China’s e-book platforms.

Every reasonable person understands that Donald Trump is a buffoon, but his torrents of false claims and imbecilities are routinely fact-checked and corrected by a robust American news media, and sometimes even by Trump’s own officials. The Chinese people enjoy no such liberties and China’s brutal state-capitalist system allows no such corrections. With the world divided more or less into two camps, with Xi Jinping on one side and Donald Trump on the other, any retreat into a facile “both-sidesism” would be a mistake the democratic world can’t afford to make.

We’ve had quite enough of that already, to disastrous result, and it would be the height of folly to try to salvage the relics of a broken global order that treated China like a normal country. That world is gone. Besides, it would be a peacetime activity, and as crude as the metaphor is, the predicament we face at the moment, in this time of plague, is very much like war.

Source: Terry Glavin: COVID-19: Beware the wartime propaganda as we battle this plague

‘Religious operations’: How British propagandists used Islam to wage cultural Cold War

And one wonders why conspiracy theories take hold:

British government propaganda unit ran covert campaigns across the Middle East for several years at the height of the Cold War, distributing Islamic messages in a bid to counter the appeal of communism.

Recently declassified official papers show that the Information Research Department (IRD), a then-secret division of the UK Foreign Office, commissioned a series of sermons that were reproduced and distributed throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

The papers show that the unit also arranged for articles to be inserted in magazines published by Al-Azhar University in Cairo, “to ensure that every student leaves the University a resolute opponent of Communism”.

In an attempt to reach as wide an audience as possible, the IRD also published and distributed across the region a series of Arabic-language romantic and detective novels, within which anti-communist messages were embedded.

These stressed that Soviet communism was essentially atheistic in philosophy and practice, and claimed that Moscow aimed to sow political disorder and economic chaos in the Middle East.

Information Research Department

The papers also shed new light on the way in which the British government covertly controlled or influenced many of the radio stations and news agencies in the Middle East from the 1940s to the late 1960s. Some details of these operations became public after the IRD was shut down in 1977.

However, the latest tranche of declassified papers appear to show the IRD to have been particularly sensitive about what its officials termed “religious operations”, in which they attempted to utilise Islam as a bulwark against communism.

Marked Secret or Top Secret, many of the papers are being declassified after 50 or 60 years; nevertheless, some passages were blacked out by government censors before they were made public at the UK National Archives.


Subterfuge, bribery and sermons

The IRD was set up in 1948 in order to continue the work of a wartime body called the Political Warfare Executive. For the next 29 years it ran a number of newspapers, magazines, news agencies, radio stations and publishing houses, in order to spread unattributed anti-communist propaganda across much of the world.

Its favoured method, however, was to place stories in established newspapers and to covertly brief opinion formers. This was achieved on occasion by subterfuge or bribery, although early on, a senior IRD official, John Peck, warned that bribery might not always work.

“I have serious doubts about the value of bribery as a means of getting anti-communist articles in the press,” he wrote.

“I am told that except in Jordan and possibly in Syria the circulation of those Middle East newspapers which are open to bribery is small and their individual influence negligible.”

In the same memorandum, he summed up the reason for IRD material being distributed without attribution: “However valid our arguments may be, the fact that they are our arguments makes them suspect to the Arabs. We can only overcome this difficulty by presenting the same arguments through an Arab intermediary.”

Despite Peck’s wariness, bribery continued to be used as a means of distributing propaganda material across the region.

Although financed through the same unpublished budget as Britain’s intelligence services, the newly-released papers show that the IRD also received funding from the oil industry.

“It is true that in the last year we have been receiving clandestine financial assistance from oil companies,” a memo to IRD director Ralph Murray, marked Top Secret, noted in 1954.

But the Middle East was seeing “the emergence of a state of total ideological warfare”, the author claimed. “And while such help is appreciated, the amount is completely inadequate to our vital needs.”

Information Research Department

The newly declassified papers contain a number of references to “religious operations”. Frequently these references are concerned with the financing of such propaganda campaigns, rather than the means of delivery. “You will note that we are including new budgetary provision for £1,000 to cover ‘Religious Operations’” is one typical entry.

Some details of the campaigns do emerge, however. In February 1950, for example, two years after the IRD was set up, its representative at the British embassy in Cairo informed London: “The Friday sermon has always been recognised as one of the most important way [sic] of spreading propaganda in the Moslem world.

“We have now devised a scheme for ensuring that anti-Communist themes are adequately dealt with. A series of sermons has been written here.”

This was still happening 10 years later, as a top-secret memo from Beirut from August 1960 makes clear: “We hope to produce two short pamphlets or sermons a month on religious subjects. They will be written by Sheikh Saad al Din Trabulsi, formerly of the Beirut Moslem Tribunal (sharia) and now of Zahle Moslem Tribunal, who is well-known as a pious Moslem.

“Two thousand copies of each would be distributed unattributably … throughout the Arabic-speaking world (less Iraq). Recipients will be Sheikhs, other leading Moslem personalities, Mosques and Muslim education establishments.”

The intermediary between the IRD and Trabulsi is named in the files as a man called Rivera, although this is possibly a codename.

Another intermediary between the IRD and individuals described as “religious operators” is named in the files as Talaat Dajani, a Palestinian refugee living in Beirut. Dajani later moved to London, where he received a medal of honour from the Queen in 1979, and died in 1992.

The whole Trabulsi operation, the IRD representative explained to London, would cost around 8,800 Lebanese pounds, or around £1,000 sterling, a year.

Information Research Department

Although Iraq was excluded from that campaign, the country was on occasion the subject of IRD religious operations. In 1953, for example, IRD headquarters wrote to its man in Baghdad, saying: “We would like to know more about your ‘pilot’ scheme for the covert dissemination of propaganda in the Shia holy places since it may suggest ideas which could be used outside Iraq.

“Is the scheme connected with the working party’s proposal to make Friday sermons prepared in Beirut available to certain Shia divines?”

IRD officials saw another chance to make use of “religious operations” in Iraq following the attempted assassination of the country’s prime minister, Abd al-Karim Qasim, as he was being driven through Baghdad in October 1959.

There had been a “remarkable religious revival” following the attempt, the unit noted. “Workmen engaged in demolition work near the site of the attempted assassination had discovered the tomb of a Moslem holy man; this story had been widely publicized and had given substance to the popular belief that the Premier had been miraculously preserved. It was agreed that there would be an advantage in giving wider circulation to the story.

“Religious stickers have been appearing in Baghdad and the possibility of augmenting them is to be considered.”


Disruption and influence operations

The following April, a conference of Middle East-based IRD officers was held in Beirut. The minutes of what was described as a “restricted session on covert propaganda” show that Ralph Murray “listed the targets at which we should aim to disrupt or influence”.

Those to be disrupted included communist parties and hostile propaganda agencies. This was at a time when printing presses inside Soviet embassies were thought to be producing 10,000 copies of a newspaper entitled Akhbar every day.

Those to be influenced, on the other hand, included young people, women, trades unions, teachers’ organisations, the armed forces and religious leaders.

The representative from the British embassy in Baghdad explained that Iraq “was now an important target for religious material”, at which point, the minutes say, IRD officers based in Amman and Khartoum “also pressed strongly for supplies of sermons and religious articles, which they said they could easily place”.

The files make clear that several governments in the region connived with the IRD and would assist in the distribution of sermons and the placement of newspaper and magazine articles.

The IRD’s man in Baghdad also “emphasised that the Iraqi army was an important target” and suggested that arrangements might be made for selected officers to visit the UK, with the trip appearing to be arranged by bodies with no clear connection to the British government.

He also noted that in Basra, the same press was being used to print both communist and non-communist newspapers, and said that “the judicious use of some financial inducement would probably make it possible to put the Communist paper out of business if that were thought to be desirable”.

Information Research Department

Delegates were briefed on the propaganda efforts of other members of the Baghdad Pact: the Cold War alliance of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and the UK that was dissolved in 1979. The IRD enjoyed extensive contacts with Baghdad Pact governments, offering both propaganda materials and technical support.

“In practice,” the delegates were told, “only the Turks are really active, having achieved the publication in the Turkish press of 25-30 articles a month prepared by a writers’ panel.”

Finally, the secret conference was informed that HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] was running two newspapers published in Bahrain: al Khalij and its English-language sister paper, the Gulf Times.

One paragraph in the minutes of the session notes that delegates were told that these newspapers were “exceptional”, in that IRD “preferred to work through staff of established newspapers”.

These minutes are among the papers that have been declassified and handed to the UK National Archives. But, 60 years after the conference, the subsequent paragraph remains blacked out.


Nasser and the Suez crisis

From the end of the Second World War to the late 1960s, successive British governments appear to have used intelligence and propaganda in an attempt to preserve strategic and economic interests in the Middle East at a time when they were struggling to retain influence.

Earlier disclosures about the IRD’s activities have shown that while some senior British diplomats in the region were highly enthusiastic, others were sceptical, fearing that exposure would exacerbate anti-British sentiment.

This is exactly what did happen, at a time and place where the British were about to take their last fling of the imperial dice: in 1956, in Egypt.

The IRD had been highly active in Egypt from the organisation’s inception. As an IRD paper written in Cairo in 1950 noted: “Conditions in Egypt are such as to make it eminently suitable breeding ground for Communism.”

The author went on to highlight “acute maldistribution between rich and poor” and the concentration of land in the hands of a small proportion of the population.

Information Research Department

Nevertheless, he wrote: “This paper deals with the use of British-inspired propaganda. It does not deal with the more important problem of positive action to remedy the social and economic conditions likely to assist the spread of Communism.”

Instead, the author explained, the IRD was targeting the students at Al-Azhar University on the grounds that “from among them come the Imams who preach the Friday sermon in every Egyptian Mosque; the teachers of Arabic in the secondary schools and all teachers in the village schools; and the lawyers specializing in Moslem law”.

The organisation was also arranging for “the production in drafts in English of short love or detective novels, or thrillers, embodying anti-Communist propaganda but following their local counterparts as closely as possible in presentation etc.

“The Information Department, Cairo, would arrange for the drafts to be rewritten in Arabic by local hacks, and for them to be published locally.”

The unit would also “investigate the feasibility of producing short love or thriller magazine stories (of about 2,000 words) with an anti-Communist twist”.

The jewel in the IRD’s crown in Cairo was the Arab News Agency (ANA), one of several media organisations that British intelligence had set up during the Second World War.

Like other news agencies and radio stations that had been established in Beirut, Tripoli, Sharjah, Bahrain and Aden, ANA came under the control of the IRD after that organisation was founded in 1948.

To those on the outside, ANA appeared to be part of Hulton Press, a large company owned by Edward Hulton, a Fleet Street media baron. In fact, Hulton had allowed his company to give cover to the IRD and Britain’s overseas intelligence agency, MI6.

As well as distributing genuine news stories, gathered by Egyptian and British journalists, the agency disseminated propaganda produced by IRD, and became a base for MI6 officers masquerading as journalists.

In March 1956, with relations between the UK and Egypt deteriorating sharply, the UK Foreign Office instructed the IRD to switch its focus away from communism and towards the government led by Gamal Abdel Nasser – who had been engaged in propaganda operations against the British for some years.

The following July, after Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal Company – taking control of the waterway that the British considered to be the jugular vein of their empire – the UK’s propaganda and espionage efforts under the cover of ANA rapidly picked up pace.

Anthony Eden, the British prime minister, had long been convinced that Nasser was under the influence of the Kremlin – although the British ambassador in Cairo, Humphrey Trevelyan, disagreed – and MI6 began considering whether the Egyptian president could be assassinated.

Poison gas was one favoured option; an exploding electric razor was another.

Instead, as the Suez Crisis began to unfold, Eden vetoed the murder plot and the British decided to engage in several months of psychological warfare in Cairo, followed by military intervention.

A powerful new radio transmitter was erected in Iraq, broadcasting programmes from Arabic stations around the region that were covertly under British control, an operation that was for a while given the codename Transmission X.

As the British, French and Israelis plotted to invade Egypt and occupy the area around the canal, a steady stream of IRD and MI6 propaganda specialists began to appear at the ANA’s offices in Cairo.

This had not gone unnoticed by the Egyptian government, however, and in August, just weeks before the invasions, all of the agency’s operations – news reporting, spreading propaganda and gathering intelligence – were brought to an abrupt halt.

Egyptian secret police raided its offices and the homes of several of its staff. Eleven Egyptians were accused of being spies working for MI6 officers based at the agency; one, Sayed Amin Mahmoud, a teacher, was executed, and his son, a naval officer, was jailed for life.

Two MI6 agents who helped to manage the agency were subjected to lengthy interrogation and jailed. Others were tried in their absence, and two British diplomats and four journalists were expelled.

However, the British head of the agency – who was also a correspondent for the Economist and the London-based Times newspapers, escaped arrest: it appears that the Egyptian government may have been feeding him disinformation, and wished to continue.

Information Research Department

In the event, IRD simply set up a new Arab News Agency, from offices in Beirut, with staff in London, Cairo, Amman and Damascus.

By 1960, according to one of the recently-declassified files, few people working at the agency’s Beirut headquarters were aware that it was controlled by the British government; IRD staff were warned “therefore to be cautious in their dealings” with them.

In March that year the senior IRD officer at the British embassy in Beirut wrote to London to say: “Of our secret information operations, I … attach the greatest importance to the Arab News Agency. There is no doubt they are doing the most useful work throughout the area and they run a good office here.”


Reuters and the BBC

The recently declassified documents also shed new light on the way in which in the 1960s the British government persuaded Reuters, the international news agency, to take over the operations run by two IRD fronts, Regional News Service (Middle East) and Regional News Service (Latin America). The relationship between Reuters and the IRD was first exposed in the 1980s.

The government funded these Reuters operations through the BBC. It began paying the BBC enhanced fees for its World Service operations, and the BBC in turn paid Reuters extra sums for receiving its news feed.

While the IRD accepted that it could not exercise editorial control over Reuters, the declassified papers show it did believe that it would gain “a measure of political influence”.

Some of the IRD’s Cold War activities in the Middle East and North Africa remain secret, however, with many of its old files remaining classified on national security grounds.

Not all of the papers on Reuters and the Arab News Agency have been transferred to the UK National Archive, for example. One dating from 1960, with the catalogue description “renegotiation of contract between Reuters and the Arab News Agency”, is among the IRD files that remain classified.

Another that has been withheld by the UK Foreign Office is known to contain papers from 1960 and is entitled “Information Research Department: Jordanian television”.

Other withheld files concern efforts to distribute IRD material through the Maghreb Arab Press news agency after it was set up in 1959, or have titles like “Information Research Department: Arab trade unions”.

Many of the titles of the classified IRD files are themselves classified: the UK National Archives catalogue simply lists them as “Title withheld”.


Reputational damage?

The United States was also an enthusiastic purveyor of propaganda in the Middle East throughout the Cold War. Material created and distributed by the US Information Service tended to promote the idea of common western and Islamic values rather than attack Communism.

The recently declassified files are all concerned with British campaigns, however.

With the IRD being shut down in 1977 – in part, because too many people had become aware of its existence and activities – two questions remain.

The first is: did their campaigns have an impact on people’s attitudes and behaviour?

Throughout the Cold War, many British diplomats in the Middle East were sceptical about the IRD’s efforts. Some argued repeatedly that communism had only limited appeal in the region, and that Arab nationalism posed a greater threat to the UK’s interests than Moscow.

‘In our experience, it is barely possible to interest the politically conscious Iraqi in the Communist system at all’

– British diplomat, Baghdad, 1955

Even in Iraq – which the IRD appears to have believed to be more susceptible to communist influence than Egypt – some of Britain’s envoys had their doubts.

One diplomat wrote from Baghdad to the IRD in 1955 to explain: “The Arabs have no means of checking the accuracy of our allegations about the iniquities of the Communist system … but they have the means, as they believe, of checking Russian propaganda about French and British wickedness in the Persian Gulf and North Africa.

“In our experience, it is barely possible to interest the politically conscious Iraqi in the Communist system at all.”

Looking back, a number of historians remain equally sceptical.

Vyvyan Kinross, author of Information Warriors, a forthcoming book about the battles for hearts and minds in the Middle East, believes that Eden’s attempts to demonise Nasser in 1956 left him looking hopelessly out of touch, and propelled Britain into disastrous military action.

The failed propaganda war contributed to “a general collapse of Britain’s reputation for honesty and fair dealing in the region”, Kinross says.

James Vaughan, lecturer in international history at Aberystwyth University in Wales, who has extensively studied western Cold War propaganda in the Middle East, concludes: “The history of British propaganda in Egypt demonstrates how the decline of British influence was a well-advanced phenomenon, several years before Nasser’s decision to nationalise the Suez Canal Company.”

The second question is: what happened after the IRD was closed in 1977?

An intriguing answer to this question was provided by Adnan Abu-Odeh, who served as information minister in the government of King Hussein of Jordan.

Abu-Odeh would have been on MI6’s radar at the time. He was Palestinian who had risen through the ranks of the Jordanian secret police and been handpicked for the job by the king.

At the time the kingdom was going through a major crisis, which became known as Black September, when the Jordanian Armed Forces attacked and expelled the PLO under the leadership of Yasser Arafat from the refugee camps in Jordan.

The crisis was resolved when Palestinian fighters known as the fedayeen were escorted to Syria.

In an interview with Middle East Eye in 2018, Abu-Odeh explained how he was sent to England in the early 1970s, to be trained by the IRD.

‘The king was preparing me to become minister of information, on the advice of MI6. The IRD taught me their tactics and methods’

– Adnan Abu-Odeh

While working as an intelligence officer, Abu-Odeh said, he was approached by the country’s newly-appointed director of intelligence. “He said to me: ‘His Majesty wants you to go on a course in London at the IRD.’

“I said to him: ‘What is the IRD? I didn’t know.”

Later, he was sent back to England to study psychological warfare at a military academy.

“The king was preparing me to become minister of information, on the advice of MI6. The IRD taught me their tactics and methods.

“When I became minister of information, I trained one or two people how to do it.”

Although there is no confirmation in the recently declassified IRD files, it seems entirely possible that before it was disbanded, the organisation trained other government officials across the region.

Source: ‘Religious operations’: How British propagandists used Islam to wage cultural Cold War

China’s coronavirus outbreak calls out for Canada’s help – and we should respond, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune

Silly piece, divorced from reality: For Weeks, China Has Ignored Outside Offers of Help on VirusFor Weeks, China Has Ignored Outside Offers of Help on VirusThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been offering to send experts to China, but no invitation has come. The World Health Organization appears to be facing the same cold shoulder.

On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. But two days later, an even more surprising statement: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang asked the European Union to provide medical supplies to fight the epidemic unfolding in China.

This was highly unusual – top Chinese officials are not particularly known for their willingness to ask for international aid. But it points to the gravity and severity of the situation.

China is grappling with a severe public health challenge that is now outpacing the deadly SARS outbreak in 2003. As of today, more than 31,000 people in 28 countries and territories have been diagnosed with the new virus. The vast majority of those cases have emerged in China, where more than 600 people have died.

After 2019-nCoV was identified as originating in the city of Wuhan, the Chinese government took extraordinary measures to contain the outbreak. Wuhan and 13 surrounding cities have been locked down since Jan. 23 in a quarantine that affects more than 40 million people. It might be hard for Canadians to imagine this feat, but consider that Canada’s entire population is about 37 million.

However, the biggest challenge China faces is on the front lines. Doctors and nurses are racing against the clock and struggling to treat thousands of patients with dwindling supplies. Somehow, they are standing firm despite a shortage of hospital beds, staff, medicine and protective gear – even for themselves. Many doctors have worked throughout the day without drinking, eating or going to the bathroom simply to avoid replacing their protective suits. One doctor we know wore his son’s goggles to work for protection.

That the Chinese medical community is in mourning only heightens the anxiety. Dr. Li Wenliang, the Wuhan Central Hospital ophthalmologist who was among the first to identify the disease, passed away Friday.

Canada has confirmed five cases of its own – three in Ontario, two in British Columbia – but it has been acting vigorously and vigilantly, monitoring the situation, providing travel advice and evacuating Canadians in China. It’s remarkably brave of Ottawa to follow the WHO’s recommendation not to ban Chinese and other international travellers from China from entering the country. Furthermore, as acts of racism against the Chinese-Canadian community increase, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made statements criticizing anti-Chinese sentiments and misinformation about the coronavirus. “This,” he said, “is not something Canadians will ever stand for.”

These are admirable steps. But it is our belief that Canadians will only be truly safe when China wins its battle. And history may offer a good example of what Canada can still do to achieve this goal.

In the late 1930s, Canadian physician Norman Bethune brought modern medicine to rural China. He was credited with saving thousands of Chinese civilians and soldiers during the Second Sino-Japanese War, and for this he is revered even today in China. His story confirms the most effective way to save lives: supplying Canadian medical treatment to China.

Doing so will require three courses of action. First, we would urge Ottawa to continue demonstrating respectful concern and vigorous support as China combats this virus during this critical period. Secondly, we would recommend the Canadian government play a vital role in facilitating the procurement of medical supplies for hospitals in affected regions. Trade-promotion agencies can help by adding a medical-supplies section to their information portals to connect qualified Canadian suppliers with Chinese buyers. Thirdly, we would encourage Canadian health-care professionals and specialists to work with Chinese and international experts in developing treatments and a vaccine.

Ottawa and Beijing have had their differences. A prominent Chinese executive is facing extradition to the U.S., while two Canadian citizens remain in jail in China and a crippling import ban hurts Canadian canola farmers. But Canadians remain highly respected and liked in China – in no small part because of the legacy of people like Dr. Bethune.

There is a Chinese saying: “Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.” We hope we can focus on our shared humanity and give Chinese medical workers and citizens a hand during this extremely difficult time – for their sake, in the name of selflessness, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune.

Kenny Zhang is a Fudan University alumnus, Jenny Li is a graduate of Hubei University, ChiChi Wang is an alumnus of the University of British Columbia and Zhenyu Cheng is a Wuhan University alumnus. All are residents of Canada.

Source: China’s coronavirus outbreak calls out for Canada’s help – and we should respond, in the spirit of Dr. Bethune

Israel Trump’s plan revokes Israeli Arabs’ citizenship

Of note:

Just two years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “I don’t intend to bring a diplomatic plan on the eve of the elections.” He was responding to a reporter who challenged him on saying in 2008 that then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, “neck-deep in investigations, has no moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions for Israel” in a quest for political survival. A few days ago, on Jan. 28, Netanyahu did exactly what he said he would not do.

Several hours after “making history” by becoming the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be officially charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Netanyahu took part in the unveiling ceremony of President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace, declaring it a “historic day like May 1948,” when Israel declared independence.

Peace is unlikely to emerge from Trump’s plan, but Netanyahu proved once again that all means justify his end of winning the March 2 elections and remaining in the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. To that end, he mobilized Trump’s help in presenting an alleged peace plan that consists of everything except peace and a Palestinian partner. The East Room ceremony resembled a wedding without the bride, celebrating a deal between Israel and the United States, rather than Israel and the Palestinians.

As expected, the Palestinian leadership rejected the plan. Channel 12 reported that on Jan. 29, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent Netanyahu a handwritten note informing him, “The Palestinian Authority now sees itself as free to disregard the agreements with Israel, including security cooperation.”

Anyone delving further into the details of the 80-plus-page proposal could not have missed the surprising clause allowing Israel to transfer to a future Palestinian state the populated Arab communities in the so-called Triangle of central Israel: Kufr Qara, Arara, Baka al-Garbiyeh, Umm al-Fahm, Kalansua, Taybeh, Kafr Qasem, Tira, Kafr Bara and Jaljulya.

This is not the first time an Israeli government during the Netanyahu era has tried to trade away its Arab citizens in the Triangle, which borders the West Bank, by moving the border and thereby turning them into nationals of a future Palestinian state. The idea previously arose in 2013 when US Secretary of State John Kerry mediated peace talks between the two sides, with the clear goal of finding a solution to the land swap issue. There also appears to have been a hidden agenda — reducing the number of Israel’s Arab citizens — an estimated 300,000 of who live in the Triangle communities.

“Just as with many earlier initiatives, this one too does not have any hold or acceptance among the Arab Israeli or Palestinian public,” Jamal Mjadlah, a social activist from Baka al-Garbiyeh, told Al-Monitor. “This is an initiative devoid of justice and logic, which will not be accepted and will not be adopted.”

Salah Smara, a high-tech engineer from Tira, asserted to Al-Monitor, “This is an attempt to enhance ideologies espousing population transfer using political tools to get rid of the Arab citizens rather than physically removing people from their homes. The motivations are racial — to preserve demographic superiority.”

The initiative could also have the absurd and tragic impact on many families by tearing them, as in the case of Firas Azam, an attorney born in Taybeh but now living in the coastal Mediterranean city of Haifa. If the land swap goes through, he would remain an Israeli citizen, but his mother and brother’s Israeli citizenship would be revoked.

“‘And we were like strangers in our land.’ This is my headline for this absurd move,” Azam told Al-Monitor. “Our state, where we grew up, went to school, worked, respected its laws and principles, does not want us anymore and is willing to give us up just like that. I would have expected the Jews to understand this better than any other people in the world, but I guess I was wrong.”

Trump and Netanyahu present the idea of exchanging populated lands as targeting communities that “largely self-identify as Palestinians,” according to the plan. A 2019 study by the Israel Democracy Institute found, however, that only 13% of Arab Israeli citizens define themselves as “Palestinians” in terms of their main identity, whereas 65% are “proud to be Israelis.” The study further indicates that 83% of Israeli Arab citizens want to integrate into Israeli society and become full members of it.

The above results do not conform to the premise of the Trump plan, proving yet again that it is nothing more than an attempt by Netanyahu and Israel’s political right to shrink the number of Israel’s Arab citizens, who constitute 21% of the state’s population. That, in turn, would reduce the number of Arab voters, who obviously do not tend to vote for right-wing parties, helping the right perpetuate its rule and prevent the formation of a center-left government.

Shimon Sheves, who served as director general of the Prime Minister’s Office under the late Yitzhak Rabin, shared his thoughts on Facebook about the actual difference between the so-called deal of the century and Rabin’s peace plan. Indeed, there are many similarities between the American blueprint and the one charted by Rabin, who was, as we know, assassinated because of the peace he sought to advance. At the time, it was Netanyahu who led numerous protests against Rabin and addressed rallies at which Rabin was dubbed a traitor and the crowd chanted, “With blood and fire, we will expel Rabin.” The difference is that Rabin did not agree to land swaps, as Ben Caspit explained in a Jan. 29 Al-Monitor article. Perhaps that is what the Netanyahu-led right really wants: to revoke the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of the state’s Arab citizens.

With an effective and well-targeted campaign by the Arab Joint List, currently the third largest Knesset faction, the initiative could backfire against Netanyahu. Such was the case with the so-called Camera Law, a Likud-led initiative to install cameras at Arab polling stations. The alleged idea was to guard against voter fraud, but in reality was devised to intimidate Arab voters. The move ultimately prompted a significantly high Arab turnout in protest in the September 2019 elections. If the current initiative gains ground, Netanyahu will once again be crowned the main campaigner of the Joint List.

Source: Israel Trump’s plan revokes Israeli Arabs’ citizenship

Equally revealing:

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser warned Palestinians on Wednesday that Israeli settlements will continue to expand because rising anti-Semitism around the world means more Jews will immigrate to Israel.

Addressing many hot-button global issues in a speech and discussion with foreign diplomats to the United States, Robert O’Brien also said the president hoped to go to Beijing to talk to the Chinese about a three-way nuclear arms control pact with the U.S. and Russia. He said the president still hopes that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will resume nuclear talks with the U.S.

O’Brien defended Trump’s Mideast peace plan, which was embraced by Israel but rejected by the Palestinians. O’Brien said the plan is not “perfect,” but urged the Palestinians to negotiate terms of the proposed deal. The deal offers economic benefits that would allow Palestine to become the “Singapore of the Middle East,” he said.

The Palestinians have roundly denounced the proposal, which offers them limited self-rule in scattered chunks of territory with a capital on the outskirts of Jerusalem while allowing Israel to annex large parts of the West Bank. Protesters have burned U.S. and Israeli flags as well as posters of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood with Trump at the White House when he rolled out the plan last week.

“This could be the last opportunity for a two-state solution,” O’Brien said at the Meridian International Center. “The Israeli birth rate is strong and is growing because sadly anti-Semitism in Europe and other places around the world is encouraging more Jews to return to Israel. The settlements are going to continue to expand. If this freeze on settlements doesn’t hold. If this peace process doesn’t work, it may be physically impossible to have a two-state solution.”

It was unusual for a high-level administration official to tie anti-Semitism to the settlements. The Palestinians, as well as much of the international community, view the settlements in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem — territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war — as illegal and a major obstacle to peace. But O’Brien’s comments are in line with the Trump administration strongly favoring Israel in the longtime conflict.

O’Brien didn’t note that the Palestinian population is growing too in both the Palestinian territories and Israel, according to U.N. statistics. The Palestinian population is growing at roughly 2.4% a year, 33% higher than Israel’s.

Those demographic shifts have led previous peacemakers to warn that Israel risks losing its ability to remain both a Jewish state and a democracy without a two-state solution that gives the Palestinians enough inhabitable and arable land to accommodate their growing numbers.

Trump’s plan would foresee the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, but would allow Israel to annex all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley.

U.S. officials had discouraged Netanyahu from proceeding with plans to immediately annex any new territory and had played down the possibility that the release of the plan would make any such move imminent. But after the rollout, Netanyahu vowed to bring his West Bank annexation plans to a vote at his next Cabinet meeting just days away.

That surprised and frustrated the Americans. In a series of interviews, Trump’s point people on Israel jammed the brakes on annexation, putting greater emphasis on the prospects of Palestinian statehood that Netanyahu was trying to sidestep.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said a U.S.-Israeli committee would need to be formed to ensure that any move matches up with the Trump administration’s “conceptual map.” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a chief architect of the plan, said Israel should wait until after the March 2 Israeli elections before annexing territory.

Any quick move to annex land would galvanize Netanyahu’s hard-line base and shift the focus of his reelection campaign away from his legal woes. But annexation also would likely spark an international backlash, and neighboring Jordan, a key player in Middle East peace efforts, has warned against it. It could also foreclose the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution.

Brexit, the most pointless, masochistic ambition in our country’s history, is done

An eloquent, pointed and valid rant by Ian McEwan:

It’s done. A triumph of dogged negotiation by May then, briefly, Johnson, has fulfilled the most pointless, masochistic ambition ever dreamed of in the history of these islands. The rest of the world, presidents Putin and Trump excepted, have watched on in astonishment and dismay. A majority voted in December for parties which supported a second referendum. But those parties failed lamentably to make common cause. We must pack up our tents, perhaps to the sound of church bells, and hope to begin the 15-year trudge, back towards some semblance of where we were yesterday with our multiple trade deals, security, health and scientific co-operation and a thousand other useful arrangements.

The only certainty is that we’ll be asking ourselves questions for a very long time. Set aside for a moment Vote Leave’s lies, dodgy funding, Russian involvement or the toothless Electoral Commission. Consider instead the magic dust. How did a matter of such momentous constitutional, economic and cultural consequence come to be settled by a first-past-the-post vote and not by a super-majority? A parliamentary paper (see Briefing 07212) at the time of the 2015 Referendum Act hinted at the reason: because the referendum was merely advisory. It “enables the electorate to voice an opinion”. How did “advisory” morph into “binding”? By that blinding dust thrown in our eyes from right and left by populist hands.

Now more than ever, Canada needs to resume diplomatic ties with Iran

Pertinent advice by our former head of mission to Iran and Saudi Arabia (his cross posting was from Iran to Saudi Arabia, mine at a much more junior level was the reverse, from Saudi Arabia to Iran in the mid-to-late 1980s).

I always felt that one of the most significant aspect of having diplomatic relations and embassies was the ability to provide consular services, both for Iranians in Canadians and Canadians in Iran.

The shooting down of the Ukraine International provides a dramatic illustration of this need:

The plane crash in Iran on Wednesday that killed 176 people, including at least 63 Canadians, was an unimaginable human tragedy. Families and futures were lost in the blink of an eye. The pain will last generations.

For diplomats, dealing with the deaths of Canadians abroad is one of the most difficult challenges. It is also one of the most important. Families are going through the worst time of their lives. It is the role of diplomats to step in and try to facilitate the process of returning their loved ones to Canada, while dealing with the often mind-numbing and incomprehensible bureaucratic realities that inevitably come with it.

Dealing with these events is even more challenging when Canada has no diplomatic presence on the ground or even diplomatic relations with the country where the tragedy occurred. That is the case with Iran.

Canada’s relations with Iran had been fraught from the earliest days of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, given Canada’s role in facilitating the escape of six U.S. diplomats during the hostage crisis. It was an episode that hung over the bilateral relationship for decades – with more than one Iranian official berating me during my time in Iran for helping those “American spies.”

There were a range of additional policy issues and differences that had fractured the relationship in the intervening years. The final break came with the passage of the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act (JVTA) in March, 2012, and the listing of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism in September, 2012. The legislation allowed for the seizure and sale of Iranian government properties in Canada.

The JVTA made the security situation for the Canadian embassy in Iran untenable; a point that was driven home only months before when the British embassy was violently attacked by an Iranian mob. We were now about to start seizing Iranian properties in Canada. The embassy was closed the day the legislation naming Iran came into effect.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was a necessary one. We knew that Canada’s ability to provide consular services would suffer. Italy stepped up as our protecting power in-country and management of consular services was transferred to the Canadian embassy in Ankara. In normal circumstances, it was a manageable, if inadequate and inconvenient, arrangement.

The system, however, was not designed to handle a crisis situation like the one that occurred on Wednesday. Those kinds of situations cannot be managed remotely.

The Islamic Republic is never an easy partner to deal with, even, sadly, in tragic situations. Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s call to his Iranian counterpart, Javid Zarif, was a good start. It’s to be hoped it will pave the way for Iranian co-operation in helping Canada try and ease the suffering of families by letting our officials go to Iran to do what they need to do. That’s the least that can be expected and they deserve the full co-operation of Iranian authorities on the ground. But given the state of our relations (or, more to the point, lack thereof) that cannot be assumed. I do hope, though, that Iran does not use its refusal to recognize dual nationality to argue that Canada has no direct interest in this incident. Sadly, that cannot be ruled out.

There are reports that the Iranian Civil Aviation Authorities have invited Canada’s Transportation Safety Board to join the international team being assembled to investigate the crash and according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, consular officials are heading to Iran. In light of Canadian intelligence information that the plane seems to have been shot down by the Iranian military, we can’t be certain Iran will allow Canadian access. The fact that Iran was on the other end of similar event in 1988, when an Iranian commercial aircraft was brought down over the Persian Gulf by an American naval vessel, should enhance willingness to co-operate, but how open they actually will be remains to be seen.

It would be a welcome outcome if this incident provided new impetus to the effort to resume diplomatic ties and a return to Tehran in due course, taking into account the broader geopolitical context. There is no substitute for being on the ground. Canada has been blind to what has been happening in Iran – especially important these past several days – and we have our hands tied in dealing with this tragedy.

But that will require dealing with the JVTA and that will be tough politically. The federal government will be accused of going soft on Iran and denying that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. Removing the JVTA says nothing of the sort. The JVTA was a mistake that is hurting Canadian interests and, more importantly, undercutting the government’s duty to serve Canadians. It should go.

Source: Now more than ever, Canada needs to resume diplomatic ties with Iran: Dennis Horak

Spy agency says Canadians are targets of foreign influence campaigns

More on foreign influence and interference:

Canadians are more exposed to “influence” operations than ever before according to an internal assessment from the country’s electronic spy agency.

A 2018 memo from the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) warned the rise of “web technology” like social media, along with Canadians’ changing habits for consuming media, make the population much more likely to encounter efforts by foreign powers to shape domestic political opinion.

“These new systems have generated unintended threats to the democratic process, as they deprive the public of accurate information, informed political commentary and the means to identify and ignore fraudulent information,” reads the memo, classified as Canadian Eyes Only.

“Foreign states have harnessed the new online influence systems to undertake influence activities against Western democratic processes, and they use cyber capabilities to enhance their influence activities through, for example, cyber espionage.”

“Foreign states steal and release information, modify or make information more compelling and distracting, create fraudulent or distorted ‘news,’ or amplify fringe and sometimes noxious opinions.”

The memo was prepared as Canada’s intelligence agencies were engaged in an exercise to protect the 2019 federal election from foreign interference.

Elections across the democratic world — the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the European Union — have in recent years been the targets of misinformation and cyberespionage campaigns from hostile countries.

There is no evidence that Canada’s recent federal election was the target of sophisticated cyber espionage or misinformation campaigns.

But another document prepared by CSE makes clear that Canadian politicians have already been targeted by foreign “influence” campaigns.

An undated slide deck prepared by the CSE suggested “sources linked to Russia popularized (then Global Affairs Minister Chrystia) Freeland’s family history” and targeted Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s appearance and turban in Russian-language media outlets in the Balkans.

The agency appears to be referring to stories, which were reported by mainstream Canadian news outlets, suggesting Freeland’s grandfather edited a Nazi-associated newspaper in occupied Poland.

The stories were “very likely intended to cause personal reputational damage in order to discredit the Government (of) Canada’s ongoing diplomatic and military support for Ukraine, to delegitimize Canada’s decision to enact the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Offices Act, and the 2018 expulsion of several Russian diplomats,” the documents, first reported by Global News, state.

The attacks against Sajjan, meanwhile, were “almost certainly” intended to discredit the NATO presence in Latvia, where Canadian forces are deployed as part of a NATO mission to deter Russian expansion after the invasion of Crimea.

“Since Canada’s deployment to Latvia, subtle and overtly racist comments pertaining to … Sajjan’s appearance, particularly his turban, have consistently appeared across Russian-language media in the Baltic region,” the documents read.

“Even ostensibly professional news sources are not above such descriptions. When … Sajjan attended a conference in Latvia in October 2017, he was described by Vesti.lv as ‘a large swarthy man in a big black turban.’”

Compared to some of the attacks on Western democracies, those two influence campaigns were minor in scale and impact. But the intelligence agency suggested that more and more countries are turning to cyber capabilities to further their own goals at the expense of other nations. And CSE’s analysis suggests their willing to play the long game.

“In the longer-term, influence activities, both cyber and human, are likely to challenge the transparency and independence of the decision-making process, reduce public trust (and) confidence in institutions, and push policy in directions inimical to Canadian interests,” the documents, released under access to information law, read.

“Many European states and some private companies have begun to develop countermeasures to malicious activities aimed at democratic processes, including increasing public understanding and resilience. However, little has been done to create robust, institutionalized multilateral responses.”

Parliament’s new national security review committee has completed a review of foreign espionage activities in Canada and submitted it to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The classified report detailing their findings is expected to be released early in 2020, once the House of Commons resumes sitting.

Source: Spy agency says Canadians are targets of foreign influence campaigns

The Liberal government’s foreign policy cop out

The has been a continuing refrain over the last 20 to 30 years that Canada needs a  “muscular” foreign service and an infusion of funding to strengthen the foreign service. Yet no government, Liberal or Conservative, has done so given domestic priorities (including trade).

So while it is valid to make these arguments, it would be far better to be more focussed on specific areas where the current foreign service should focus on than pining for something that no government is likely to consider.

And of course, a major factor behind the success and public support for our immigration system is precisely due to it focussed on economic class immigrants, where self-interest comes most into play:

Every October, Canada invades Istanbul in a way that might seem downright crass to Canadian sensibilities. The city’s historic Beyoglu district, one of its richest and most liberal, home to hundreds of bars, restaurants, galleries, clubs and, at one time, the Canadian consulate, transforms into a red and white extravaganza, its cobblestoned alleyways adorned with posters announcing the yearly Canada Edu Days fair.

Now, if the fair feted Canada’s contributions to the world—multiculturalism, cooperation, tolerance—there would be no need for this column. Canada would be, finally, touting all those things that are increasingly, in a world infected by authoritarianism and self-interest, disappearing.

Instead, the fair does what Canada seems to do best in the world: poaching talent. As the name implies, Canada Edu Days is about studying in Canada. Every year, it pairs up Canadian colleges with thousands of young dreamers eyeing a way out of Turkey’s deteriorating economy and its socio-political morass.

That’s great; Canada needs talent, and Turkey’s remarkably talented youth are in desperate need of opportunities. But in and of itself, it’s also a feature of Canada’s failure to act responsibly at a historically critical moment: Rather than bringing what makes Canada great to the world when the world needs leadership, it is capitalizing on the chaos, siphoning off valuable human resources like a war profiteer.

This is the dark side of Canada’s pollyannaish self-image. We are great in large part because we have an immigration system that prioritizes talent over desperation. We can retreat at times of global uncertainty because we have valuable resources and a relatively small population.

But retreat should not be an option in a world where men like Donald Trump, Xi Jinping and Jair Bolsonaro are ascendant. Nor should waiting and hoping that these agents of self-interest will magically disappear and the world will go back to normal. Experts warn that is simply not going to happen. Canada should not be trying to save the world order as it was but helping to shape the world order as it will bewhen the dust finally does settle.

The Liberal government, like past governments, appears unwilling to take on that task.  If the Throne Speech was any indication, Canada’s role in the world will figure even less prominently than it has in the recent past. All the pretty words reinforced what has become the defining feature of the Liberal government on the world stage: It talks in the modernist voice about grand narratives—global peace and harmony, equality and justice—but fails to appreciate the postmodern reality of fragmentation and discord.

What we need is boldness. Canada’s foreign service is in shambles; it needs urgent reform and an infusion of funding. The Liberals may not have created the problem, but they have failed to address it and that failure has had consequences. As Jennifer Welsh, the Canada 150 research chair in Global Governance and Security and director of the Centre for International Peace and Security Studies at McGill University, told me in July, the Liberal government’s foreign policy has been “ineffective” in many cases because it lacks the “deep relationships” needed in a world where traditional alliances are unravelling.

“An operating principle of our foreign policy should be that we have to form relationships around particular issues with countries where we believe we have enough common ground to advance things together,” she said. “In the current environment, that is going to require not necessarily the usual suspects.”

Without a muscular foreign service, there is no developing those relationships. Foreign policy becomes what Daniel Livermore, senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, calls “government by PMO directive”.

“That was very much the case under Harper,” he says. ” The PMO decides something and then says to Global Affairs here’s what we’re going to do. There has been a lot more pushback from Global Affairs under Trudeau but it hasn’t been nearly strong enough.”

The problem, Livermore adds, is fundamental to the department. It lacks the “bench strength” to “offer an entirely different vision of how to do foreign policy.”

For a country like Canada, a middle power with limited heft in the world, knowledge is essential. Middle powers have to carefully pick and choose their moments and identify issues where they feel they can have a measurable impact. But instead of taking up the challenge, the Liberals have retreated into a defensive posture.

Canada should prioritize more engagement with the world at every level, from leadership to the grassroots. Here in Istanbul, it seemed a few years ago that something was about change after the Canadian consulate was shifted to a shiny new office tower in the Levent business district. It was an improvement from the dingy apartment Canada used occupy in Beyoglu, where one woman and her cat would greet visitors with listless stares. It felt as if the new consulate would be more active, more dynamic, more forward leaning.

But the early signs were there of a different kind of shift. Heavy security greeted visitors to the office tower. The C-suite feel also portended the growing Canadian dependence on trade-based diplomacy. Canada would engage with CEOs and business leaders from its perch high above Istanbul’s frenetic streets but at the expense of understanding the mood of the people.

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of a student recruitment fair, Istanbul was painted red red and white with posters announcing the opening of a Canadian cultural centre? Or a multiculturalism festival? Or an art exhibition? Wouldn’t it be great if Canada’s engagement with the world included talking to young people on the streets, the same young people who are now protesting in Hong Kong, Chile and Iraq?

That kind of engagement would mean beefing up our foreign service with people who can speak local languages, who are comfortable leaving the confines of our cozy diplomatic missions and getting their hands dirty. It would mean being bold.

Source: The Liberal government’s foreign policy cop out

Shameful: @TrueNorthCentre using the two Michaels to raise funds

Speaks for itself – petition and involvement more to raise funds than substance – see highlighted text:

Two Canadians arrested by Chinese authorities on trumped-up charges have been in prison for exactly one year on December 10th.
Enough is enough.
We’re tired of the Chinese communist regime bullying Canada.
To anyone paying attention to China, both its grotesque human rights record and its increasingly belligerent foreign affairs, it’s clear that China is no friend to Canada.
It’s time the Trudeau government stand up to China and demand the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
One can only imagine what conditions they’re being detained in.
We created a petition to help the two Canadians.
If 10,000 Canadians sign this petition, we’re going to table it in the House of Commons.
Can you sign this petition and share it with your friends and family?
We want as many Canadians as possible to sign this petition. We know the majority of Canadians understand the threat communist China poses to Canada.
If you’re able to, chip in a few dollars to help us promote this petition on social media.
Thank you for standing up for Canada,
True North

Huawei Canada exec insists CFO Meng Wanzhou is victim of ‘politicization’

Always somewhat amusing when a former senior minister (John Baird, shilling for Saudi Arabia) or former senior aide, in Alykhan’s case, works for a Chinese company despite having been part of a government with legitimate concerns over Chinese influence.

And good on the reporter for challenging him for his firm not making representation to free the two Michaels:

One of Huawei’s Canadian bosses says he is concerned about the “politicization” of its CFO’s case south of the border, but dodged questions on why the firm won’t speak out more strongly for the two Canadians arbitrarily detained in China.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, the executive and former director of issues management for Stephen Harper’s government insisted Huawei Canada respects Canadian laws but did not answer when asked whether the branch would call for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

“Well, you know, we’re concerned. We’ve said that we want the two governments to work together to find a resolution that can bring them home as soon as possible,” said Alykhan Velshi, vice president of corporate affairs of the Canadian branch of the Chinese company.

“With respect to Meng Wanzhou, obviously she has access to Canadian court, she has lawyers here and we remain confident that she will be found innocent because she is innocent and we remain alarmed by the politicization of her trial down in the United States.”

He would not clearly explain why the domestic branch of the company isn’t saying the same for fellow citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, detained by the Chinese government in apparent retaliation for Canada’s observance of its extradition treaty with the U.S.

Under that extradition treaty, Canada honours roughly nine in every 10 requests from the U.S. and it is the courts that decide on the merits of a case for extradition, with the ultimate decision lying at the very end of the process with the Minister for Immigration only in the event extradition is approved.

“If you’re alarmed by that politicization, are you not alarmed that these Canadian citizens are being held on what the Canadian government says are completely specious charges?” Stephenson asked Velshi.

“As I’ve said, we’re concerned. I think all Canadians are concerned by what’s happening over there by their treatment and we want this resolved as soon as possible,” he responded.

“But the solution can only be found by governments working together — by our government here in Ottawa, by the government in China, diplomats working together so we can bring them home as soon as possible. That’s our hope and I think that’s the hope of all Canadians.”

Kovrig, a diplomat on leave from Global Affairs Canada, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, were detained by Chinese authorities last December.

The action came just days after Canadian authorities arrested Meng on a provisional warrant from the United States. Shortly afterwards, the U.S.  charged her and her company with allegedly skirting sanctions on Iran and stealing corporate secrets.

Kovrig and Spavor were held without charge until May 2019, when China formally arrested them on accusations of spying.

They have been kept in conditions described as “harsh,” with no access to lawyers and with the lights on 24 hours a day.

They have received only limited consular visits.

Meng, meanwhile, is out on bail and living in one of her Vancouver homes.

She is currently fighting extradition to the U.S., a process that could take years.

Huawei is seeking to bid on the upcoming 5G spectrum auction but faces allegations from intelligence agencies and experts around the world that it poses a national security risk because of a Chinese law that requires Chinese companies to spy for the state if requested.

Canada is currently in the midst of a review on whether to allow Huawei to bid in that auction.

Officials here are under pressure though from the Americans, who have deemed Huawei an unacceptable security risk and implemented a ban on U.S. companies using its technology. However, they have also issued repeated exemptions to that ban, most recently last month.

Source:  Huawei Canada exec insists CFO Meng Wanzhou is victim of ‘politicization’ – National