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July 9, 2020

The Care and Feeding of the Chinese Government

Reuel S. Amdur

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Some have argued that a prisoner swap for Meng Wanzhou would be a capitulation that would encourage China to seize more Canadians in order to get their way. Two problems with such a reading of the situation.

On a practical level, Canadian prisoners in China are suffering nasty treatment over a prolonged period of time, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig going on two years, Huseyin Celil 14 years, Sun Qian recently sentenced to 8 years.  How much longer are Canadian leaders prepared to have them suffer?  During the waning days of the Cold War the West and the Soviet Union made a big prisoner swap.  We should do likewise.  The Meng case should be seen not as a problem but rather as an opportunity.  As well, we could put in the package deal the removal of the death penalty for the two Canadians held in Chinese jails for drug offenses.  It is hard to see how such a trade could be seen as appeasement.

Furthermore, this trade would not preclude other actions with regard to China.  Let’s look at some possible steps.  If China persists in rejection of Canadian canola, we could take China to the World Trade Organization.  Such a step would be contrary to Canada’s policy of trying to be on China’s good side.  We only intercepted Meng because of a request by the United States, putting us in the middle of their squabble.  Yet, perhaps it is time for us to show a bit of grit.

Undoubtedly, we need to seek alternative markets for canola, wheat, and pork.  This will be difficult, even impossible, because of the size of the Chinese market, but here are some possibilities to consider, whether or not practical.  Would canola be more readily sold on the world market in the form of flour or oil?  For wheat, in the form of flour?  And are there other possible uses for the land than growing wheat and canola?

Andrew Scheer has suggested withdrawing from China’s Asian International Infrastructure Bank.  We are not a major player in the bank, but our adhesion is not insignificant.

Canada could try to find substitutes for some Chinese goods.  For example, for Oriental foodstuffs might they be gotten from Viet Nam, Taiwan, Japan, and other countries in the Far East? For clothing there are many possibilities. 

Our government could also promote closer ties with Taiwan.  For example, we could add a cultural attaché to our trade office.  The attaché might promote student recruitment for Canadian schools and arrange academic exchanges.

The Canadian government could warn its citizens that visiting China could put them in danger.  It has been doing the opposite.  One travel agency in fact warns its clients of the danger, and government officials sought to get the travel agency to withdraw the warning.

When Chinese officials in Canada are seen interfering in our affairs, they should be sent home.

Finally, something we should be doing without regard to any quid pro quo, Canada should be a major player in the denunciation of the persecution of the Uyghurs.  Some Chinese students in Canadian universities have been acting in supporting their government in the suppression of the Uyghurs.  We should promote the Uyghur cause on campuses and in the wider community.

It is time for Canada to bring home its unjustly imprisoned citizens, even if that means freeing Meng.  We cannot sit by while they suffer.  And there are other measures we can take to demonstrate that we are not kowtowing. 

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