With the firing of John McCallum from his ambassadorship in China because he made a simple statement of the truth about the precipitate and unnecessary Meng arrest and detention in Vancouver on December 1, it seems like the bottom has really fallen out of the foreign policy of the Trudeau government.
The “sunny days” Prime Minister, seems to be about the best guy around at the moment to lead the country, a statement that I could make less tentatively when comparing him with Andrew Scheer of the Conservatives. But he does exhibit some characteristics that can only be described as sort of flakey, and especially is this so in the field of foreign policy. He appears to need a strong right arm for Foreign Minister or whatever the office is called these day, and the incumbent Chrystia Freeland, undoubtedly a smart woman, seems to be a veritable repository of what I call the overall Western consensus about how the world should be run. This consensus seems to be on the point of crumbling, at least from its former dominant position astride global geopolitics, in the face of the rapid economic development of China, India, Brazil and other previously under-developed countries.
This remarkable change needs a solid response from Canada if it is to avoid being caught in the posture of a satellite of the American empire. This is the more so since the governance of the United States has become so irrational and idiosyncratic that Canada needs to be on a renewed guard against the always questionable view that our great neighbour to the south sees itself as the one nation above all others --- the famed doctrine of “American exceptionalism” in which Barack Obama said that he believed “with all my heart.”
It was a bad sign, in my view when the Trudeau government enlisted the help of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for advice on how to approach the re-negotiation of NAFTA --- the same Mulroney whose duet with Ronald Reagan and their wives singing When Irish Eyes are Smiling, or some such cloying rubbish, will long be remembered by Canadians as a nadir in our long relationship with the Big Brother.
In these parlous circumstances we need someone as Foreign Minister or whatever it is now called, with a broader view of global affairs than that of a former economic journalist for the financial newspapers. McCallum said that Ms Meng has a strong case to present in the extradition proceedings, no more than a statement of fact. It was the entrenched commentariat that raised a chorus of protest, supported by a line-up of former ambassadors whose advice was predictably that McCallum should not have said what he said, (but should, apparently, have contented himself with being the paid liar for his government). Trudeau stood firm in his support for twenty-four hours, but was within a day so overwhelmed with negative perceptions of what had happened that he totally caved in over the weekend and asked for McCallum’s resignation.
It is true that China does not have a judiciary independent of government control, but for Canada to have stood so firmly in its position that the “rule of law” is what is at stake between the two sides of this dispute is, not to put too fine a point on it, an untenable position. The rules of extradition, as I pointed out in my last Chronicle but one, do allow for a judicial hearing, but the result of that goes to the Minister of Justice, and “he or she is the only person who can authorize the surrender of a fugitive to another country.”
This is a political decision, at one remove from the way the Chinese arrive at their decision in such matters, no doubt, but still ending in the same result: a political decision has to be made by the responsible minister. The United States knows, too, that extradition is not automatic: it has not hesitated to deny extradition of an individual to another country with which it has an extradition treaty, as is shown by their refusal to hand over the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the United States in self-imposed exile from Turkey.
Given this fact, that we are trapped by law into making a political decision, it is astounding that Trudeau, who knew in advance of the pending arrest of Ms. Meng, did not decide to make his political decision at an earlier stage in the proceedings, using whatever lay open to him to avoid her arrest, knowing, as he must have known, that once achieved, it would land him and his country in what, when I was a kid following wrestling by wireless night after night, we used to call an octopus clamp --- a hold from which it was impossible for the victim to escape.
It is notable that the tone of the Chinese seems to have moderated as a result of Mr. McCallum’s entry into the controversy. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the objective of the United States was clear for all to see --- they wish to leave no stone unturned in their effort to constrict China’s technological advancement “by depriving China of its legitimate development rights.”
This brings us on to the way the Western allies (mostly independent Commonwealth countries) appear to be knuckling down under the diplomatic terrorism initiated by John Bolton, the lunatic right-wing fanatic running Trump’s national security operation, to ban Huawei, Ms. Meng’s firm, from installing its technology in areas that might be considered to expose the host country to security risks. I keep thinking of the parallel of Japan’s development: I remember before the war when Australians and New Zealanders were encouraged to think of the Japanese as the “yellow peril” from the north, ready to pounce on us all. All we knew of Japan at the time was that it was flooding the world with cheap goods, inevitably the first stage of what, after the war, developed into a technological mastery that saw them making the best quality electronic equipment being made anywhere in the world, taking over markets previously occupied by British cars, for example, and flooding the world market for cameras to such an extent as to almost drive the American masters, Kodak and Eastman, right out of business.
No one now talks of this transfer of technology as a regrettable thing, but rather as the price that had to be paid for the under-developed, overcrowded nation of ancient Japan to emerge into the sunshine occupied by the economically powerful.
But what was good for the Japanese, against whose brutal war machine China offered the first resistance, is apparently not good for the Chinese, who, in an identical situation, are to be deprived of western markets for their already highly efficient electronic goods. The only justification I can think of that could be put forward in favour of this decision to exclude China from our markets, is that it is an act of racism.
I am not an expert on China, but I did have the remarkably eye-opening experience of working there twice during the days when the Communist government had been so traumatized by the brutal impact of Western power on China for decades, that, as a matter of choice, it decided to stop all information from the western world at the borders. Even under the authoritarian Communist government they were achieving some remarkable results. And it has since become clear that they have the capacity to make equipment already of the highest quality. I was always impressed, even under Communism, with their sense of being this ancient civilization with thousands of years of unbroken history behind them, who had a long view of events, who knew what they wanted to achieve, and were ready to do whatever was necessary in their drive to overcome the endemic poverty of their people.
They are a formidable people, as they are showing the world now, and we have made a bad move in managing to get on the wrong side of them in this unnecessary dispute.
One thing that struck me in the 1970s and 1980s, when I visited their country was that they were responsible for the fate of almost one human being out of every four: What they were doing was crucial to the future of a safe and sound world, and it was impossible to doubt their absolute determination to carry out the task they had set themselves.