Terry Glavin: When will Canada join the rest of the democratic world in standing up to China?
It's not just about the crushing of democracy in Hong Kong. It's about the belligerence and barbarism of China’s supreme leader, Xi Jinping, and a world of sins
“We can no longer tell the world that we still have ‘one country, two systems’,” is the way Hong Kong Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai explained Beijing’s garrotting of the last vestiges of democracy in the former British colony this week.
One country, two systems is shorthand for the guarantee of Hong Kong’s autonomy from Beijing, which was supposed to last until at least 2047, as set out in the Sino-British agreement of 1997.
“This declares its official death.”
This declares its official death
In a carefully executed manoeuvre, Beijing’s puppet chief executive Carrie Lam dismissed four pro-democracy legislators Wednesday after Beijing adopted an edict allowing their ouster from Hong Kong’s gerrymandered, rubber-stamp legislature without recourse to Hong Kong’s courts. The four lawmakers had already been disqualified from running again, after the Chinese Communist Party decided that the four were insufficiently loyal to Beijing, so they had to go.
In protest, Wu Chi-wai and the remaining 15 pro-democracy legislative council members have resigned en masse. And this is the way democracy is ending in Hong Kong, after 18 months of massive anti-regime protests, the boldest resistance to Beijing since China’s democracy movement was crushed in the massacre of Tiananmen Square in 1989.
It could be that Hong Kong is now a lost cause. It could also be that this week’s events will serve to galvanize American resolve. It might just turn out that the Democratic Party’s president-elect, Joe Biden, will come through with his pledge to mobilize America’s allies in a long overdue determination to stand up to China, forcefully, multilaterally, and effectively.
Until now, the United States and the world’s liberal democracies have been all over the map in coming to terms with the belligerence and barbarism of China’s supreme leader, Xi Jinping. It’s not just about Hong Kong.
It’s about Xinjiang, where Beijing has been carrying out a reign of terror aimed at enslaving and liquidating the Turkic Muslim Uyghur minority. It’s about China’s takeover of key United Nations agencies, its abusive manipulations of the World Trade Organization, and its “hostage diplomacy” in one country after another.
It’s about China’s mass theft of intellectual property throughout the G20 economies, the annexation of the South China Sea, and the vast and largely unchallenged subversion and influence operations Beijing’s United Front Work Department is carrying out throughout the world’s advanced economies, Canada included.
Article content continued
It’s not just about Hong Kong
It’s not true that U.S. President Donald Trump has been “tough” on China, and it’s not true, as it is so often asserted, that Canada’s problems with the extradition of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou are because we’ve been dragged into some “U.S.-China rivalry” drama. It is true that Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were abducted in retaliation for Meng’s arrest on a U.S Justice Department extradition warrant. But their arbitrary arrest and inhumane imprisonment is of a piece with Beijing’s consistent strategy of driving wedges between the U.S. and all its allies. It’s not just about Canada.
It’s not true that Joe Biden is soft on China. It was Biden, not Trump, who described Xi Jinping this way, in February: “This is a guy who is a thug.” Trump, meanwhile, has called Xi “a great leader.” Trump has also admitted to backing away from holding Beijing to account for Xi’s rampages in Hong Kong and Xinjiang in order to gain advantages at the trade-talks table.
Here’s Trump, two years ago: “President Xi and I will always be friends.” As recently as this past January: “He’s for China, I’m for the U.S.,” Trump said, “but other than that, we love each other.” Trump has gone out of his way to cut Xi slack on Xinjiang. Biden has gone out of his way to declare Beijing’s mass imprisonment of the Uyghurs and the obliteration of Uyghur culture a genocide.
In the just-concluded and still-contested U.S. presidential election, the results clearly demonstrate that the United States is a country deeply divided, from the inner cities to the suburbs, and on throughout and across the American political class. But the threat to the world order that Beijing presents is the one thing that unites Americans.
More than 300 separate bills targeting China have been drawn up by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and the important bills addressing the catastrophes in Hong Kong and Xinjiang enjoyed full bipartisan support. The most potentially effective law, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act — which Trump only reluctantly signed — was cosponsored by Republican Marco Rubio and Kamala Harris, the Democrats’ vice-president-elect.
There isn’t a single sentence Trump has uttered as a criticism of China that has not been formulated more articulately and forcefully by Democratic Party House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
It’s not just the Americans who are fed up with Beijing
It’s not just the Americans who are fed up with Beijing. Australia, which is especially vulnerable — nearly 40 per cent of Australia’s foreign trade is tied up with China — has nonetheless managed to confront Beijing’s influence-peddling and strong-arm operations in the country by passing a foreign-agents registration law.
Beijing has slapped a tariff on Australian barley, restricted beef exports and threatened to make similar mischief with Australian lobster, coal, timber, copper, sugar, and wine exports. This has got nothing to do with “U.S.-China rivalry.” The retaliations began after Australia merely proposed an international investigation into the coronavirus pandemic that burst upon the world late last year in Wuhan. Unsurprisingly, the investigation, controlled by the China-dominated World Health Organization, is going nowhere.
Justin Trudeau’s government can’t even bring itself to follow the lead of Canada’s “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing partners in keeping Huawei gear out of core 5G internet connectivity technology. Canada lacks a foreign-agents registration law of the kind Australia has adopted. And despite a consensus about Beijing’s harassment and intimidation operations in Canada that unites human rights organizations, Chinese diaspora activists, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP, Trudeau’s government remains strangely paralyzed.
A fundamental consensus that has prevailed among Americans is now drawing in Europe: the democratic world needs to stand up to Xi Jinping’s China. One of Biden’s key foreign-policy goals is to build on that consensus. This week’s events in Hong Kong have forced the issue.
It remains to be seen whether Canada will join that consensus, or remain an outlier.
Terry Glavin is a journalist and an author.