Liberals dismayed that military exercises with China were cancelled, secret documents reveal
The exercises, planned for 2019 at CFB Petawawa, Ont., were cancelled by Gen. Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, shortly after the arrest of the two Michaels
The Liberal government was dismayed when the Canadian military cancelled winter exercises with China’s People’s Liberation Army, according to top secret documents published Wednesday.
The exercises, planned for 2019 at CFB Petawawa, Ont., were cancelled by Gen. Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, shortly after the arrest of the two Michaels, reported Wednesday by The Globe and Mail and Rebel Media, which posted the documents online.
A memo from Global Affairs to the deputy minister for foreign affairs, stated, “Given the heightened scrutiny, any decision by Canada to reduce/cut ties should be carefully considered to avoid sending any unhelpful or unintended messages.”
According to the documents, concerns about the winter exercises were raised on the margins of a conference involving the Five Eyes (FEYs) intelligence gathering countries — Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. The concerns apparently originated from the U.S.
In the documents, the imprisoned Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, are referred to as the “consular cases.” They were detained in China days after Canada arrested Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou on a stopover at the Vancouver airport at the request of the U.S. Meng and Huawei face numerous charges in the U.S. over allegations they put international bank HSBC at risk of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, accusations that both she and the technology giant deny.
“Our impression is that DND/CAF reluctance to engage with the PLA is not solely related to Ms. Meng’s arrest and the consular cases — that there are other reasons for their interest in dis-engaging. From our prospective it is also perhaps to be related to a desire to be fully aligned with the FEYs, particularly the U.S,” reads one of the documents labelled “secret.”
One of the concerns from the U.S. related to “undesired knowledge transfer” from Canada to China.
A February 2019 memo to Ian Shugart, deputy minister of foreign affairs, reads, “Should Canada make any significant reductions in its military engagement with China, China will likely read this as a retaliatory move related to the Meng Wanzhou case.”
The memo also said that if DND/CAF cancelled other events there should be “careful communication strategies” to avoid it being linked to the Meng case.
A draft letter from Shugart to Deputy Minister Jody Thomas, at the Department of National Defence, said that in future the military should consult with Global Affairs before taking any action that could impact Canada-China affairs.
Despite the worsening relations between Canada and China, the Liberal government was keen on maintaining ties, according to the documents.
“While resolving the consular cases is the Government of Canada’s top priority a certain amount of continuity in other parts of the Canada-China relationship remains important,” says the memo to Shugart.
On Wednesday — the day the two Michaels had been imprisoned for exactly two years, Prime Minister Trudeau reiterated the importance of their cases.
“Over the past two years, two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been detained arbitrarily by China and Canada has done absolutely everything necessary to try and get them home safe,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons.