Here’s how Canada could take on China
4 September 2020
International collaboration is needed to confront China’s rising use of “coercive diplomacy” to get what it wants, says a report from an Australian think tank.
One of the report’s co-authors, Fergus Hanson, said the Chinese Communist Party is increasingly using threats or forceful actions in diplomatic disputes and smaller countries can’t take on Beijing alone.
Canada has felt the sting of China’s tactics since December 2018 when two Canadian men Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested in China and now stand charged with espionage offences.
Their arrests came within days of the arrest of Chinese tech giant Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, in Vancouver on a request from the United States. Kovrig’s and Spavor’s continued detentions are considered to be retaliation by China.
According to the report, only Australia has been subject to more cases of China’s coercive diplomacy than has Canada.
“You really have no way to win in a bilateral dispute with China,” Hanson told the Star in a phone interview. “The only real way to do this is collective response.”
He said such a response should include Canada and its partner nations in the intelligence sharing alliance known as the Five Eyes adopting economic security measures to retaliate against Beijing’s coercive diplomacy. The alliance includes Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States.
The report via the independent Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) is titled The Chinese Communist Party’s Coercive Diplomacy. It was released Tuesday and is based on open source information, such as newspaper articles, academic research and social media posts.
It says the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has used coercive diplomacy in 152 cases against 27 countries over the past decade and instances have risen sharply in the past three years. It also explains how China uses a divide-and-conquer approach to foreign relations.
The report said a “co-ordinated and sustained” international effort by governments and companies is needed to push back against China.
Coercive diplomacy can include economic sanctions, tourism bans, state-sanctioned threats and detention of foreign citizens in mainland China. Officials from China have denied the government uses the tactics.
Hanson said the Kovrig and Spavor situation is a prime example of a time when western countries could have united against Beijing, but did not.
“It took weeks for the Australian government to issue a media statement about the arrest of the Canadians,” he said, adding other nations also issued separate statements. “Everyone tried to act bilaterally, no one had any impact and it was a bit of a disaster.”
Instead, he said, Five Eyes countries should treat such actions against a member nation as an attack against all members and collaborate a response for more impact.
Hanson said China’s ban on Canadian pork and beef last year could have also been addressed with this approach. The months-long ban cost the industry in Canada $100 million.
Had the Five Eyes been set up to collaborate in such a dispute the countries could have collectively imposed $100 million worth of sanctions on the Chinese economy in retaliation, he said.
“You’d only have to do it once and this would stop,” Hanson said.
But Liberal MP for Scarborough-Guildwood, John McKay, said though co-operation is possible it would not be easy to organize internationally.
“It’s an interesting idea and given the ditching of any reasonable economic and diplomatic norm by the Chinese Communist Party all ideas, I think, should be on the table,” McKay said.
McKay is a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), a newly-formed international consortium of elected officials and other high-profile figures working to find ways to counter Beijing’s actions.
He said using existing trade pacts like the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes Canada, Vietnam and Japan, may be a better way to address coercive diplomacy.
“I think that pretty well all of those countries see their economic relationship with China the same way, every one of them has been victimized by the economic aggression of the Chinese Communist Party,” he said. “My gut reaction is you go there first.”
Collaboration to support countries being targeted by Beijing is a priority for IPAC, said spokesperson Sam Armstrong.
“We want to come up with ways of using our membership to encourage governments to stand with those that are being bullied so that there is a global alliance against Chinese bullying,” he said, “whether that manifests itself through diplomatic, espionage, military or economic means.”
Armstrong said he already believes there is an appetite among Five Eyes countries to support each other economically in disputes with China. But he said he hasn’t seen much evidence the alliance is ready to work together on other issues, such as Beijing’s political interference in foreign countries.
Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and Washington’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact in 2017, Armstrong said he is confident Washington would support collaborative action against the CCP.
“I think they actually see it as a shared endeavour,” he said.
Armstrong said the Trump administration is always looking for “wins on the global stage” and is willing to cut deals to get them.
Other ways countries can combat China’s coercive diplomacy, according to the ASPI report, include developing protocols to help business react to coercion.
The report found the United States has been subject to the third highest number of coercive diplomacy cases from China at nine. Australia had the most at 17 followed by Canada with 10.
It says most countries made re-establishing good relations with China a priority in response to coercive diplomacy by the CPP.
“This type of result seems likely only to license further coercion by the CCP against others,” reads the report. “The CCP intentionally isolates countries in this way to retain comparative strength and ensure the effectiveness of its coercive methods.”
Not all nations have been co-operative in the face of China’s aggressive foreign policy. Earlier this week China’s foreign minister threatened the Czech Republic after the president of its senate, Milos Vystrcil, gave a speech in Taiwan.
China claims ownership of Taiwan, despite the island having its own government, military and borders while declaring itself a sovereign nation. Beijing often becomes enraged when foreign nations have direct contact with the Taiwanese government.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi promised the Czech Republic would “pay a heavy price” for the Taiwan visit by the delegation. The Czech Republic’s foreign minister responded to China’s protest by saying he hopes the two nations can continue working together.
But the comments also sparked a letter from the mayor of a district of Prague, Pavel Novotny, to Wang demanding an apology within 24 hours and calling the Chinese government “unmannered, rude clowns.”