Stronger stance needed against China, ex-Ottawa ambassador says

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The desire for Canadian products should give Canada some leverage to engage with China, he said.

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Canada must take a firmer line with an increasingly aggressive China, though it is likely powerless to force the release of two Canadians imprisoned there, the former Ottawa ambassador to the country said Thursday.

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Guy Saint-Jacques said Canada should take a tougher line with China, which could be done without disrupting trade between the two countries.

“My hope for the next government in Ottawa is that we adopt a more solid engagement strategy with China, based on protecting our values,” he said in an interview with the Global Business Forum which s is held at the Banff Springs Hotel.

“The message to China is simple: ‘We have no problem with you being a superpower, but you must obey international rules and treaties, stop acting like a tyrant, stop using trade as a a weapon and you will be welcome. “

He noted that Australia has taken a tougher line with China even though 30 percent of its exports go there, while for Canada the figure is only 6 percent.

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“We can learn a lot from Australia, they are not afraid to take on China,” said Saint-Jacques.

China has denounced the recent sale of nuclear submarines by the United States to Australia, a move that has exacerbated tensions in the region.

As for the imprisonment in China of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, Saint-Jacques said Ottawa’s options are limited to a scenario in which the Chinese head of Huawei Technologies, Meng Wanzhou, agrees to be blamed in the case that could lead to a plea bargain.

The detention of the men since December 2018 is widely viewed as a retaliatory measure against Canada’s arrest of Meng, who risks being extradited to the United States for trial fraud charges related to US sanctions against Iran.

“Canada alone, there is not much we can do, but I know the pressure continues with Ottawa,” he said, adding that Spavor and Kovrig could remain in jail in China for several more years.

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“Meng could be in Canada for three or four years, so we have to prepare. . . Ottawa is stuck right now.

U.S. President Joe Biden is unlikely to be willing to spend the political capital that would lead to a plea bargain in Meng’s case that could lead to the freedom of Kovrig and Spavor.

“I have no hope,” he said.

Last month, Spavor was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 11 years in prison after a closed-door trial, while a verdict in the Kovrig case has yet to be announced.

People hold signs calling on China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during an extradition hearing for Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou at the British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver on March 6 2019. The “Two Michaels” have been jailed by China for more than two years.
People hold signs calling on China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during an extradition hearing for Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou at the British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver on March 6 2019. The “Two Michaels” have been jailed by China for more than two years. Photo by Lindsey Wasson / Reuters / File

While arguing over what is widely seen as China’s “hostage diplomacy”, Saint-Jacques said that trade relations between the country and Canada have in fact progressed.

“Our relationship with China is very bad politically, but commercially we could have a banner year as our exports have increased by more than 20% so far this year,” he said.

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“They need our (agricultural) products and I also see a bright future for Alberta in terms of energy exports to China, they can get all of the liquid natural gas and blue and green hydrogen from us. . “

This desire for Canadian products, he said, should give Canada some leverage to engage with China.

Sales of Alberta crops such as canola and barley have made a comeback, with Canada dodging trade sanctions imposed by China on Australia, Saint-Jacques said.

But allowing China to replace its Australian imports with Canadian goods shows the difficulty of maintaining a strong front against Beijing, said Saint-Jacques and foreign policy expert Richard McGregor.

“The idea for gaining influence with China is ‘we don’t want to play their games anymore’,” said McGregor, who noted Australia’s call for an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 virus prompted a backlash from Beijing. .

“It is very difficult to get countries to work together on trade when there are benefits for your producers.”

Saint-Jacques said countries must agree that they will not increase their exports to China when Beijing denies them to others.

The US approach to China, to cooperate in some areas but confront them in others, is the right one, he added.

[email protected]

Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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