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Is Canada ready for the new age of power politics?


With Megan Wolf, Macdonald Laurier, 25 March, 2020

The state of the Canada-China relationship is a bellwether for the new international relations. It is – to Ottawa’s consternation – increasingly an age of power politics, rather than an age of rules and order. As the Globe and Mail has lamented, “Canada simply doesn’t have the weight to compel China to stick to terms, as was demonstrated in the wake of Ms. Meng’s arrest.”

The world today is changing and the international stage is facing a dramatic shift as key states, like China and Russia, are substituting accepted standards and norms of the liberal rules-based order for a different, older form of international relations: one in which power is the standard by how things are judged.

China is a clear example of this, brandishing its military power for fait accomplistrategies in the South China Sea and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Beijing has similarly attempted to leverage its growing economic power for attraction and coercion, and discourse power to spin events as the powerful wish. Its increased influence over UN bodies – such as the World Health Organization over the COVID-19 crisis – has been only the most recent example of this newfound sharp power.

For Canada, the rude awakening into this new age began with the arrest of Chinese national Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 and Beijing’s revenge-detention of two Canadian nationals in China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The event placed Canada squarely between its ally, the US – the current hegemon – and China, a brash new contender eager to take offence at any lack of respect shown to its new status. Face is everything. Rules are nothing, mere Western tokens – intended to keep Beijing from taking its rightful place at the head of nations. Or so Chinese narrative would have us believe.

For Canada, it is not the first time it has been squeezed between great powers. Prior to the 1950s, Canadian foreign policy consisted of balancing between its powerful southern neighbor and the British Empire, to which it is still aligned. Despite this, it was able to carefully balance between the two powers – a happenchance of history as well as shared legal norms. As a result of this and its status as an archetypal middle power, Canada has long championed a certain type of international relations, and its diplomats have fought to promote liberal values and norms as well as human rights as a way of protecting the weak from the strong.

The 1970s saw an increasingly confident liberal tradition as Ottawa increased its diplomatic footprint in various overseas missions and multilateral institutions. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau increased the number of Canadian peacekeeping missions around the globe in an effort to support the United Nations. At the same time, Canada became one of the first Western countries to officially recognize China in late 1970.

It its quest to balance the massively asymmetrical relationship with its powerful southern neighbor, Ottawa also began to seek trade diversity, since a full 75 percent of Canadian exports were destined for the US. The 2008 recession reinforced this desire to diversify from trade within NAFTA, and with China a rising trading superpower, the primary choice of diversification seemed obvious. The resulting slew of trade dealsbetween Canada and China included 15 Memorandums of Understanding signed by various departments in the Canadian and Chinese governments between 2008 and 2012, the Canada-China Investment Treaty in 2013, and the signing of an MOU on charter flight cooperation in 2015, among others.

Political ties under Prime Minister Harper grew following a 2009 visit to Beijing, in which he oversaw the Canada-China Joint Statement that laid out specific efforts to expand trade and investment. Only one year later, President Hu Jintao visited Canada to cement these ties and encourage further deals. As a result of these machinations, China has quickly risen to become Canada’s second largest trading partner after the United States (the EU is third). China imports roughly $17.5 billion worth of goods, a significant amount despite declining by 17.7 percent due to last year’s events.

While the bilateral relationship had previously weathered the storms of cyber espionage and trade access, the crisis begun with Meng’s detention has of course brought all this progress into the spotlight, and Beijing seems willing to use the economic relationship to coerce Canada into releasing her. While Canadian foreign policy-makers have directed some anger towards the Trump administration , there is also consternation not only about Beijing’s heavy-handed response – but the deeper implications of what it means for state-on-state behavior. China’s arbitrary detention of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in an act of hostage diplomacy, was unexpected though perhaps not unprecedented. After all, these are not the first Canadian citizens to have been arbitrarily detained by China.

The realization inside Ottawa that this behavior could represent a new type of great power behavior – one in which the rule of law as established after the Second World War is replaced with punitive extra-legal measures. If authoritarian powers are able to detain the foreign travelers for hostage diplomacy, what are the implications for middle powers? Will they have the ability to defend their interest in such an order, or is their role merely to submit to the face-saving antics of the powerful?

Prime Minister Trudeau will also be asking himself some broader questions. Will the Western Alliance respond to these new tactics, and how can Canada lead that discussion? Can Canada use its deep diplomatic reach inside NATO, the EU, and other international agencies to drive the response to great power politics? These are the questions and challenges that are arising in the light of a new global dynamic.

Canada has come to a major fork in the road: one in which it can continue to construct, defend, and project liberal internationalist norms in its foreign policy, another where it can become the pragmatic trading power, utilizing its strong ethnic connections to China to revitalize its economy, or a third, where it can frame Chinese and Russian behavior as unacceptable and mount a defence from within the West. This latter will require Canada to balance authoritarian states alongside the US, something that will requiring finessing.

It is clear that a new age of power politics has dawned on the global scene: it is not yet clear how Canada will respond to this new capricious form of politicking, meekly and submissively, or with a stronger sense of the right of its norms and standards. There are signs that the latter approach may be winning for now. Ottawa has sought the support of allies such as the UK, France, Germany, the US, and various NGOs to speak out against China and to advocate for the release of Spavor and Kovrig.

Perhaps a collective diplomacy is the way forward for middle powers, one which confuses and penalizes Beijing’s bullying tactics. If Ottawa were to get a collective form of censure from a group of like-minded states, it might begin to shift China’s high-handed approach to international diplomacy. However, only time will tell.


The Times, 16 May, 2019

In a strongly worded foreword to the report from the Henry Jackson Society, the conservative think-tank, the former chief of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, branded the government’s strategy a risk “we simply do not need to take”. He called on the government to “reconsider the Huawei decision” and not to “worry about giving offence to China” or “be influenced by the threat of the economic cost”.

The report said it was quite possible that UK cyber experts would be unable to find any “Trojan horses” that existed in Huawei’s equipment even if they searched for years. One of the report’s authors, the Conservative MP Bob Seely, warned that Huawei risked becoming a “cyber-Hydra we cannot control”.

The Times, Charlie Parton, 16 May, 2019

If the smokescreen of a “golden era in UK-China relations” befuddles them, they could do worse than read the report put out today by the Henry Jackson Society. It sets out, with great lucidity, why allowing Huawei a role in the UK’s 5G would be a massive mistake, both for technological reasons and to avoid putting long-term trust in a company so closely bound up with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). American and Australian contributors to the report explain why their governments have banned Huawei.

5G will be a critical part of national infrastructure over the next 30 years. The report lays out how Huawei’s ownership (far from transparent, but despite its claims not a private company), its ties to and support from the CCP, as well as an obligation under Chinese law to help Chinese intelligence add up to a threat our national security. Ministers should read the report.

 

The Telegraph, Harry Yorke, 16 May, 2019

Huawei argues that these are “hypothetical scenarios” which misunderstand its role as a manufacturer rather than operator in the network, insisting that its founder has made clear it would never install backdoors.

However, Mr Turnbull has endorsed a wide-ranging report published on Thursday by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, which claims the UK’s risk assessment of Huawei is so “narrow” in scope and definition that it is effectively “useless”.

The report, co-authored by Dr Varnish, Dr John Hemmings, director of Asia studies at HJS, and the Conservative MP Bob Seely, claims the “purely technical mandate” used to assess Huawei fails to consider the “wider issue of trust” and the political and legal climate in which it operates.

The trio have urged the Government to block Huawei from the 5G network unless it can demonstrate a “very high degree of insulation” and to work with its Five Eyes allies to create a new system which considers a firm’s “ownership, legal environment and transparency”.

Their concerns are echoed by Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, who in a foreword to the report warns that however “remote” the threat may seem, it is one “we simply do not need to take”.

 

Daily Mail, 16 May, 2019

In its report, co-authored by Conservative MP Bob Seely, the HJS said that while Huawei claims to be a private company, in China it acts like – and is treated like – a state-owned enterprise.

It said the company’s organisational structure is “opaque” and it is subject to China’s National Intelligence Law, which means it could be required to assist China’s intelligence agencies in their operations and research and development.

It also questioned claims the risks to UK security could be “mitigated” by excluding it from the “core” elements of the network and restricting it to “dumb” components like antennas.

The report said: “Our technical advisers have indicated that antennas can be modified at both the hardware and software level.

“Indeed, as 5G means moving more and more to software-networking, the ability of a manufacturer to re-purpose an antenna without detection will increase.”

 

BBC News, 16 May, 2019

In a foreword to a new report by the Henry Jackson Society think tank, Sir Richard said: “The fact that the British government now appears to have decided to place the development of some of its most sensitive critical infrastructure in the hands of a company from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is deeply worrying.

“The PRC uses its sophisticated technical capabilities not only to control its own population (to an extreme and growing degree), but it also conducts remotely aggressive intelligence gathering operations on a global scale.

“No part of the communist Chinese state is ultimately able to operate free of the control exercised by its Communist Party leadership.

 

The Guardian, Dan Sabbagh, 16 May, 2019

In a report from the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), the authors go on to claim Huawei “has long been accused of espionage” – a claim denied repeatedly by the firm – and notes that “while there are no definitely proven cases”, a precautionary principle should be adopted.

The document is co-authored by the Tory MP Bob Seely, who has already raised concerns about Huawei, and the expert academics Prof Peter Varnish and Dr John Hemmings. It adds to pressure heaped on the British government to reconsider letting Huawei participate in the UK’s 5G network from the US and Australia, whose intelligence agencies share information with the UK

 

Graeme Burton, Computing, 16 May, 2019

Huawei has lashed out at a report by the Henry Jackson Society, co-authored by a Conservative MP and a former scientific advisor to the Ministry of Defence, that argues that Huawei should be barred from every aspect of the UK’s 5G networks.

“The People’s Republic of China uses its sophisticated technical capabilities not only to control its own population (to an extreme and growing degree) but it also conducts remotely aggressive intelligence gathering operations on a global scale,” wrote former head of MI6 Sir Richard Dearlove in the foreword.

He continued: “No part of the Communist Chinese state is ultimately able to operate free of the control exercised by its Communist Party leadership… China’s military strategists perceive a world in which the military and the civilian will be fused into a single plane of conflict. The ability to control communications and the data that flows through its channels will be the route to exercise power over societies and other nations.”

While Huawei claims that it is employee-owned, the report points out that it is, in reality, 98 per cent owned by a trade union committee and that, in China, trade unions are subordinate to the state – effectively making it state controlled.

In addition, China’s government treats the company like a state-owned enterprise, lavishing it with up to $77bn in lines of credit to underwrite its rapid expansion in China and overseas.


China now appears ready to use execution as a weapon of diplomacy

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CapX, 17 January, 2019

The recent decision by a Chinese court to sentence Canadian Robert Schellenberg to death has led many international observers to claim that the decision is a political one, part of Beijing’s ongoing diplomatic pressure campaign against Canada over its detention of Meng Hanzhou, a senior Huawei executive and daughter of the company’s founder.  Schellenberg’s sentencing comes after two other Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested in December.

If this were true, it would add to the horrific realisation that the People’s Republic of China is fundamentally changing for the worse. It would – as Donald Clarke, a professor of Law at George Washington Law School has stated – indicate that “China views the holding of human hostages as an acceptable way to conduct diplomacy”. Now it appears that it is willing to sentence one to death.

According to his analysis, a number of features stand out that support the idea that the retrial of Schellenberg is related to Ms Meng. These include the original delay in trial and sentencing – he was arrested in 2016, after all – which might indicate that the evidence was weak, but that courts didn’t want to embarrass the police by throwing it out. Second, it is very rare for a retrial to find heavier punishment was merited (Schellenberg appealed after being handed 15 years in the first trial). Third, the retrial was rescheduled very hastily, with the punishment being handled down in only 20 minutes. Finally, it is odd that of all the individuals indicted in the original case of drug smuggling, Schellenberg had the smallest supposed role. It makes his sentencing particularly repugnant.

Naturally, China has used just enough legal cover to maintain the fiction that Schellenberg’s case is a legitimate example of the fair workings of its legal system, but few are convinced. Even those with strong links to the state have openly said China would take revenge.

Hu Xijin, editor of the virulently nationalist English-language propaganda outlet the Global Times recently published a video in which he warned that Canada should expect “far worse” retaliation from Beijing if it did not free Ms Meng. “Meng Wanzhou was released on bail, but Canada must do more to restore her freedom and put an end to this incident.” He stated. “Otherwise China will definitely take retaliatory measures against Canada.” Ms Meng is currently on bail, living in one of her luxury homes in British Columbia. The contrast with her situation and the three Canadians now in Chinese prisons could not be more stark.

To some extent, travel to China has always come with risks. Ten years ago, if someone working in government or business went to China, they tended to leave their electronic devices at home. There was a realisation that the state has a very aggressive attitude toward information, both proprietorial and strategic. According to cyber expert Peter Varnish, a visiting professor at the University of Coventry, Chinese police and security personnel are able to access the data of unwary travellers within hours of arriving in the country. Now, it seems that personal safety must be added to data security. One hopes that travel warnings will be added to the pages of Western diplomatic websites.

The fact is that the world is going through a major overhaul of its thinking on China. Much of this has been accelerated by the leadership of Xi Jinping, under whom party control and influence have grown, and authoritarian policies and traits have flourished – including the suppression of human rights groups, religious minorities, and free media. The use of diplomatic hostages now adds China to a list of countries such as Iran, Iraq, and, most recently, NATO ally Turkey, which took an American pastor hostage. Unfortunately, China’s turn toward authoritarianism also comes as it arrives on the global stage as a preponderant power, one capable of re-shaping the global order.

We can no longer treat China as a country just like any other. Its leadership has decided that the party must be protected at all costs, and this requires a super-nationalistic approach toward domestic and foreign policy. “Face” is more important than law. It is this desperate need for status and rank that is beginning to drive its relations with the Uighurs, driven to detention camps in the millions, and with the West, driven by the party mantra of historic humiliations. Its concentration camps and its take-over of large parts of the South China Sea are reminiscent of the rise of other authoritarian powers in the 20th century.

It is this same desperate need for face which could see China execute Robert Schellenberg, a 36-year-old Canadian citizen, a man who still protests his innocence, a man whose biggest mistake may have been to travel to a country in the midst of change.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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