Even with the release of Meng Wanzhou and the return of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Canada-China relations are not going to get better.
Countries like the United States, Australia, Britain, Italy, Germany, and Japan used to have great relations with China but not anymore. Likewise, Canada will not be returning to pre-Meng relations.
Not long ago, Britain stood firm on its stance to accept Huawei 5G technologies even under immense pressure and threats from the U.S. administration. During the early stages of the pandemic, Japanese across their country mobilized to send their masks and PPE to China with messages to cheer up Wuhan.
So how did countries that once had great relations with China turn sour?
Former Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, who led negotiations on the China-Australia free-trade agreement and who once praised China’s economic achievement, was in Taiwan this month attending the Yushan conference. Two years ago, Abbott said he would hesitate to attend the conference as it would provoke China.
“Since then, Beijing has torn up the ‘one country, two systems’ treaty on Hong Kong; put upwards of a million Uyghurs into concentration camps; boosted cyber spying on its own citizens; cancelled popular personalities in favour of a cult of the new red emperor; brutalised Indian soldiers in the Himalayas; coerced other claimants in its eastern seas, and flown evermore intimidatory sorties against Taiwan,” said Abbott.
“It’s weaponised trade, especially against Australia, with our barley, wine, and coal exports all stopped on spurious safety grounds, and its embassy has published 14 demands—essentially that we become a tributary state—that no self-respecting country could accept.”
The other two major factors that worsened the world’s view on China are COVID-19 and China’s Wolf Warrior diplomacy. It is all President Xi Jinping’s making under his so-called New Era and his "Dream of a Strong Country" grand scheme.
In countries that have press freedom, people are able to learn about what has happened in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and China, as well as the venom delivered by China’s diplomatic corps that severely undermines its relations with the rest of the world.
Many worldwide opinion polls have revealed that the general public’s negative views on China in many countries are on the rapid rise, and Canada is no exception.
A poll conducted after Meng Wanzhou’s release indicated that more than 75 percent of Canadians think that the federal government should ban Huawei 5G technologies on our telecommunications networks; while 69 percent say Canada should delay negotiating a trade deal with China, up from 47 percent in a 2019 survey.
The same poll shows that 87 percent Canadians support Canada joining with the U.S., Britain, and Australia “to contain China’s growing power".
Canada shares the same democratic, freedom, and human-rights values as its western allies. Canadians have clearly seen in the Meng Wanzhou case how China plays with hostage diplomacy and its so-called “rule of law”.
With the return of another minority government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will find it hard to act contrary to public opinion. After the return of the two Michaels, Canada has freer hands to deal with China.
Some say that the Liberals will not be as tough as the Conservatives on China. Other than the difference of being the governing party and the opposition, these commentators ignore the fact that Liberals were also behind the Uyghur human-rights-abuse studies and the genocide motion passed in the House.
Parliament’s human-rights subcommittee conducted studies on the abuse of Uyghurs' human rights in 2018 and 2020 and concluded that China committed genocide in the latter study.
China is so upset with our Parliament’s Uyghur position that it sanctioned all the subcommittee members and the MP who tabled the Uyghur genocide motion.
The fact is, the human-rights subcommittees were led by Liberal MPs while the majority of the Liberal backbenchers voted in favour of the genocide motion. Even when Canada is in a minority government, the Liberal Party has control of parliamentary committees’ agendas and the votes of its MPs.
If the Liberal Party was against taking a stand on the abuse of Uyghurs' human rights, the subcommittee would not have been able to reach a unanimous position on the Uyghur genocide and the motion would not have passed by a majority in the House.
Some say that Canada has to yield as China is our second-largest trading partner. Indeed, businesses and politically well-connected insiders who benefit from trade with China would lobby and press hard on the Liberal government, but stronger pressure would come from the media, public opinion, the United States, and other allies.
Canada’s trade with China is less than a twelfth of our trade with the U.S. No doubt, the U.S. exercises much stronger influence on Canada in terms of trade, foreign affairs, and national security.
Dissatisfied with Australia’s call to investigate the origin of COVID-19, China hit hard and stopped the importation of many products last year. It turned out that China caused more harm to itself as Australia successfully cultivated new markets, while the ban on coal contributed to the triggering China’s severe power outages.
Canada’s exports to China are, in the majority, also natural resources, where we can surely learn from Australia’s experience.
What’s worth mentioning is that China is facing hits on many fronts caused by its own draconian policies. In mere months, Xi’s decisions have caused great harm to its telecommunication giants (Tencent and Alibaba) and its stock trading in the U.S. The entire after-school education industry perished and strict controls were imposed on show business and the online gaming industry (i.e. kids are only allowed to play games for three hour a week).
Meanwhile, the largest real estate bubble in human history is about to burst, power outages continue across the country, and foreign investment and manufacturing are moving out. Plus, there are Xi’s "declarations of common prosperity".
Today’s China is no longer the mighty dragon that can bully and force others to give in. Unless China makes fundamental changes, there is little room for Canada-China relations to improve.