I notice that faint suggestions have begun to appear in the mainstream newspapers that Canada should take some action to solve the stand-off with China caused by the December 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the executive of the electronics firm Huawei.
I have been scribbling for a living ever since 1945 --- 74 years ago --- and I can never remember ever having written a laudatory article about a multinational corporation, or in fact, about any corporation. So I think I can absolve myself from any suspicion that sympathy with Huawei caused me, soon after Ms. Meng’s arrest, to throw doubt on the wisdom of the arrest. I remember one of the endless former diplomats who are always being quoted, offering the opinion that, since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knew about the arrest before it was undertaken, there was absolutely no need for Canada to go through with it. In other words, it could and should have been avoided, if Trudeau had had the experience to navigate around it.
This weekend an article in the Globe and Mail by Yves Tiberghien, professor of political science at the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, suggested it is time for Canada to de-escalate the quarrel with China by, first, sending a high level political team to China to offer “a complete and honest recognition of how exceptional the Meng extradition request was, as well as a clear willingness to listen to China’s grievances,” and secondly, to wrap up the Meng affair either through U.S.-China negotiations, or through Canadian legal or ministerial processes.
This article drew a huge number of responses from Globe and Mail readers, both for and against the author’s arguments. The anti-Chinese group, citing that nation’s failure to apply the rule of law, in some cases suggested Canada should cease to trade with China; whereas another group made what sounded to me like cogent arguments in favour of taking our courage in both hands and bowing the knee as a diplomatic way out of the dilemma that has been causing such pain to our farmers, as well as to those Canadians being kept in harsh conditions in Chinese prisons, obviously being held as hostages against the release of Ms Meng.
Though I have no brief for Huawei, I do sympathize with Ms. Meng, arrested while in transit through Vancouver, and held in what amounts of house arrest until the extradition proceedings are over, which many commentators surmise could take years.
The anti group of readers kept mentioning Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler in 1938 as a parallel for what the other side calls a sensible de-escalation. That seems to me a far-fetched analogy. Hitler was threatening to plunge the world into chaos; China is making no such threats, nor does it seem to have any serious negative expansionist intentions, even though it is extending its influence everywhere.
Professor Tiberghien argues: “A brawl is not a path to victory for Canada. This is a chess game with a sophisticated opponent. The current Chinese system is the result of the country’s traumatic pathway to modernity that involved colonization, 50 years of war and invasion, and gradual reform after the death of its mercurial postwar leader. The general trajectory since 1980 has been one of great progress, even if there’s still a long way to go toward a regime that fully respects human rights and the rule of law.”
That comes close to the argument I made two days ago, that China deserves respect for the tremendous effort it has been making to lift the poorest nation on earth, living on some of the most degraded agricultural land anywhere, out of the grinding poverty which has been their lot for so many decades and generations. One would think from these China-bashers that we deal only with nations that are impeccably pure in their politics and their respect for individual rights. Like, for example, Saudi Arabia, where real freedom appears to be unknown; Egypt, or any of the Middle East satrapies whose friendship is the basis for United States policy (with Canada following loyally behind) in that region.
One of my arguments when this case was first raised was that the Canadian government position, that this is a question of “rule of law” with which politicians cannot interfere, is not in accordance with the facts, since only the Minister of Justice/Attorney-general can extradite a person from Canada to another country. If the decision is his, or hers, whoever may occupy that office --- the decision to make the arrest must have gone through Jody Wilson Raybould, later the central figure in the SNC Lavalin affair --- then clearly in the last analysis it is all subject to political decision, not legal. Prof. Tiberghien writes that the Meng case “marks the first time the United States has sought the arrest of a high-level foreign executive through extradition from a third country for violations of its own national sanctions on a fourth country – in this case, Iran.”
Clearly with this case we are launched into a Donald Trump nightmare, epitomized by his recent insistence that every country currently buying oil from Iran must stop immediately or suffer the consequences of frozen funds, sanctions, impoverishment, ruination of their local economy, and God knows what further unreasonable impositions. As responsible observers in the United States have begun to point out, Trump is not only trying to impose decisions on third party countries in which United States has no business interfering, but in the process he is trying to undermine the very basis of the American political system in which the judiciary, legislature and executive branches each exercise its functions as a form of checks and balances. All of Trump’s recent measures appeared to thumb his nose at that framework, including this escalation of our unnecessary quarrel with a country, China, with which we have had cordial relationships at least since the 1970 decision to recognize Communist China taken by Justin Trudeau’s father.
The more conservative elements in Canadian politics --- epitomized by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney --- who sang when Irish Eyes Are Smiling with Ronald Reagan in a cringeworthy stage performance –-- have argued that whatever happens our leaders must, absolutely must, maintain good relations with the United States. But one often has the feeling that they really mean our leaders should do what the United States tells them to do. Mulroney was recently heard professing this as the number one job for Justin Trudeau. But a more realistic assessment might be that the occasional whiff of independent thought from Canada would not go amiss, and might even have the result of pulling American leaders who are going too far in their demands on other nationalities back into some more reasonable line.
I think the time has come for some such demonstration of Canadian sovereignity.
It may offer some dangers, but as I often say, Wot the hell, wot the hell! Toujours gai, toujours gai!