Erin O’Toole: It’s time for Canada to stand up to China, and stand up for freedom

Pushing back against the goals of the Chinese Communist Party is important for the safety of Canadians, both here and abroad

Tomorrow, Canada marks a grim milestone. For two years, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor will have been held hostage in China simply for being Canadian.

While Canadians are rightfully concerned about the fate of our two wrongfully imprisoned citizens, China’s hostage diplomacy has awoken the Canadian public to a far larger reality. A realignment in geopolitics has taken place over the last 40 years, and Canada has been late to heed its warnings.

To this day, every business, public or private, remains subject to the strategic objectives of the Chinese state. This may not have been a big deal when China produced mainly low-tech goods like shoes and toothbrushes, but it has dramatic implications today as Chinese tech firms export facial recognition technology and surveillance drones. All Chinese firms are required by law to collaborate with Chinese intelligence agencies. Yes, that includes mining TikTok videos and feel-good apps for data. And it certainly concerns Huawei building our digital future.

For decades, the Chinese Communist Party wooed Western companies with promises of cheap labour and, indirectly, without concerns for environmental regulations. In recent years the same has applied to concerns with respect to fair labour conditions in China. Once companies had firmly linked their supply chains to the Chinese economy, demands on them for technology transfers and forced joint ventures sharply increased — and considerations for our values were ignored.
Simultaneously, massive industrial espionage campaigns were launched, and “wolf warrior diplomacy” techniques deployed. Named after an over-the-top Chinese action movie, this is the unapologetic use of pressure tactics, outright threats and economic coercion to advance China’s strategic aims. It stems from a belief that the 2008 economic crisis revealed the West’s vulnerability, and that now is the time for China to remain the wolf-like aggressor and alter international norms in its favour.

Intellectual property theft, counterfeiting and digital piracy are not exceptions to our dealings with China. They are the reality. I saw this firsthand fighting against Chinese intellectual property abuse a decade ago. It is high time our government and corporate leaders realized that things are getting worse and not better.

Even during this pandemic, China misrepresented its COVID-19 numbers and moved to corner the personal protective equipment market. Despite this record of self-interest, the Trudeau government still decided to prioritize partnering with a Chinese firm to deliver a vaccine to Canadians.

CSIS had been flagging CanSino as a national security threat for years, but the Liberals turned a blind eye to our Canadian experts. After undoubtedly extracting useful Canadian vaccine research, China broke off relations and refused to ship samples. This put Canada at a serious disadvantage and delayed our position accessing vaccines.
For too long, our country has watched the long arm of Beijing establish itself on our soil. We tolerated Confucius Institutes — basically propaganda outlets — under the belief it would be great for our kids to learn Mandarin through programs financed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Professors tolerated a dilution of their curriculum on human rights after being repeatedly told their teachings shouldn’t offend students from mainland China. And we stood by as pro-Beijing media outlets disseminated anti-Western narratives and propaganda in our communities.

In recent years, however, this has taken a much darker turn. Canadians of Chinese origin have been threatened by foreign agents in our country. Anti-Hong Kong protests were organized in Canada to bully democracy activists. Uighur students in our universities have been intimidated and deplatformed in co-ordinated actions led by Chinese consulates across our country. And the very values we hold dear, like openness, justice and tolerance, have been weaponized against us.

When a dictatorship starts having so much influence that protecting Canadian citizens on Canadian soil is now a question open for debate, you know you have a problem.

Some voices might suggest that standing up for human rights is anti-Chinese racism or that it is paternalistic to denounce Chinese state bullying. Even ministers in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government have cried “misinformation” when journalists or opposition parties ask them about their approach to China.

I cannot say this enough. The conflict we currently have is with the Chinese Communist Party, not the Chinese people. The Chinese people have not been holding Canadian citizens hostage for two years — the corrupt Communist regime has.

Facing a challenge as big as this will require a national effort. From the highest levels of government to the individual choices of consumers, we must speak openly about the stakes at hand. Our values require us to speak the truth and to work with like-minded countries to support these values and the rules-based systems they created.

Our Australian friends, with far more at risk in bilateral trade, have tackled the Chinese threat to their institutions headfirst. Our British allies took the courageous step to ban Huawei from their 5G networks. And the United States under President Joe Biden will continue to spearhead a realignment of democracies so that we may unite in confronting the geopolitical challenge of our times.

We are not alone in this endeavour. It is time for Canada to once more stand on the right side of history. It is time for us to stand for freedom — for the two Michaels, for our country and for the future of the democratic world.

National Post

Erin O’Toole is the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada

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