China’s President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, Wedensday, Aug. 31, 2016. (Wu Hong/Pool Photo via AP) ©iPolitics.ca
By Parsa Albeheshti
Canada and China have been involved in an escalating diplomatic dispute since December 2018, following Canada’s high-profile arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, at the United States’ request for extradition. Beijing saw Meng’s arrest as a deliberate attempt by Washington to undermine China as part of their on-going trade war. They immediately detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor in order to pressure the Canadian government to release Meng. Ever since, rhetoric has been escalating with both sides accusing each other of human rights violations.
China’s approach towards the dispute has been to freeze out Canada diplomatically with Chinese officials refusing to take calls from Prime Minister Trudeau and Foregin Minister Chrystia Freeland. Meanwhile, Canada’s strategy has been centred around attempting to gather public support from its allies against China. The U.S., the U.K., Australia, Germany, France and the European Union have all issued statements of support for Canada. In response, Chinese government officials have criticized this attempt, claiming that a campaign of public support by Canada’s allies will not succeed in putting diplomatic pressure on China.
In a recent interview with CBC Radio, Japanese ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane has warned Canada of what he believes to be China’s ultimate strategy for the resolution of this dispute, referring to the precedent set by the diplomatic brawl between China and Japan in the previous years. Starting in 2012, China and Japan were engaged in a similar pattern of escalations, involving retaliatory detentions and diplomatic silent treatment. Ishikane recalls that China had a similar approach to that dispute, starting a years-long diplomatic freeze-out and avoiding face-to-face interactions in order to prolong the issue and ultimately get a better deal. In the Canadian case, Ishikane argues China is looking forward to the upcoming general election, as they believe they can afford to wait to get a better agreement with the next government than with the current one. Therefore, he believes Canada should take a firm stance, pressuring China to end the silent treatment and feel a necessity to resolve this dispute with the current Liberal government.
Canada’s approach to the diplomatic dispute with China has failed miserably thus far. The Liberal government’s strategy of campaigning for public support from its allies is far from sufficient to encourage a diplomatic solution. The Chinese have shown that they can bear damage to their international image, so long as they believe it will ultimately get them a better deal. Furthermore, China has too much economic and political power to be pressured into any sort of agreement through mere public pressure by Canada’s allies. Therefore, Canada should make a drastic change in its approach by prioritizing its own national interests in regards to its relations with China and begin to address the issue directly rather than through a campaign of public pressure. This requires Canada to be prepared to make a bargain that is meaningful to the Chinese government and ensure that the situation de-escalates sooner rather than later. Currently, Trudeau’s strategy sends this message to China that they could easily afford to prolong the tension until the next federal election.