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‘Fingers in All Pots’: Canada’s Reckoning with China

The Meng Affair as a six-act opera starring Trudeau and the fate of nations.

Andrew Nikiforuk 31 Jan

Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about the energy industry for two decades and is a contributing editor to The Tyee. Find his previous stories here.

Act one: the stakes

Every now and then a grand political opera erupts on the global stage that illuminates the corrupt order of things. The Meng Affair does just that, and more. How does a middle power like Canada occupy centre stage in the drama? Perhaps because arrogant empires view such “frightened birds” as ripe pickings.

Caught between the conceits of a declining American empire and the ambitions of a meddling superpower ruled by the Communist Party of China, Trudeau has fumbled badly. He must now find some courage.

For years now Canada’s politicians of all stripes and much of the nation’s business class and media have actively diminished our sovereignty by cultivating the illusion that increased trade with a ruthless one-party state will bring prosperity to all.

And for years now the Communist Party of China has done its best to coopt Canadian academics, entrepreneurs and politicians to champion China’s global ambitions in the media and Canadian universities as some kind of marvelous “win-win cooperation,” as the China Daily puts it.

“The empty vanity” of this stance, says Jonathan Manthorpe, journalist and author of Claws of the Panda, has been rudely exposed by the kidnapping of two Canadians and ugly threats made by the Chinese government.

A panda has treed a grizzly bear.

Will the bear fight or climb higher up the tree?

Act two: the players

The imperial tale now unfolding comes with a colourful cast of colonial and corporate characters.

Under house arrest sits Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, in one of her two immodest Vancouver homes worth a total of $22 million. She is a bonafide member of China’s corporate royalty.

Meng awaits an extradition hearing that could send her to the United States on alleged charges of bank fraud and violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. The charges come from the U.S. Justice Department and not Donald Trump.

Tellingly, Vancouver makes a perfect setting for Meng’s detention. The city represents to the Communist Party of China what Shanghai once was for European imperialists — a place to show off their money and power. So many Chinese opioid cartels and other global gangsters wash their dirty money there that an Australian security expert describes it as “a hub of transnational money laundering.”

Next comes John McCallum, Canada’s super friendly ambassador to China, who reluctantly got fired after defending China’s elites. Only the Chinese state media has expressed outrage at his removal.

Trudeau, certainly a key character in this opera, once said of China that he admired a “basic dictatorship” that could turn its economy around on a dime. More importantly, he banked his administration’s political fortunes on the obsequious promotion of more trade (including energy pipelines) with imperial China as a counterweight to waning U.S. interest in global affairs.

Now he sees those hopes dying faster than a pod of southern resident orcas in the Juan de Fuca Strait.

In contrast Donald Trump, a revolutionary billionaire president with a penchant for porn stars, recognizes China’s play for global dominance as one fraught with hazards. His strategy consists largely of imposing tariffs and sanctions to slow the fragile monster down while playing nice with China’s ally, Vladimir Putin.

Now add the tech giant Huawei. It is China’s largest private firm with annual revenues of $100 billion a year. Even Telus and BCE use Huawei products.

But the company’s 5G technology, a bit of digital wizardry that makes it possible for smart machines to connect with other machines, has got security experts worried.

Countries such as the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, who, unlike Canada, have aggressively countered Chinese interference in their politics, are convinced that the Communist party will use a backdoor in Huawei’s 5G technology to spy on western governments. (For the record, 5G tech will make it easier for any government to control and spy on its citizens.)

Last but not least comes President Xi Jinping, whose ministry of state security now holds two Canadians hostages in retaliation for Canada’s attempt to uphold the rule of law.

Xi Jinping calls himself “president for life” and has strengthened the Chinese state as an authoritarian Big Brother complete with Internet censorship and almost total surveillance of its citizens.

After Trump threw away the throne of globalization, Xi rebranded it as Globalization 2 and promised all roads would now lead to Beijing.

To advance this new Chinese-centric economic order, Xi’s regime works to extend influence through the 10 million People’s Republic of China citizens living abroad. As part of that program, Xi Jinping passed in 2017 the National Intelligence Law, which it made legal for Communist party officials to demand cooperation from Chinese companies and their communication networks as well as citizens living abroad. In other words any Chinese firm or any citizen can act as a spy for the party in the interests of “national security.”

Act three: the crisis

The economic stage upon which this rowdy drama is unfolding is decadent, angry and fragile.

Ordinary people know that globalization is failing, but Western political leaders like Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron pretend the deep faults can be mended by making the rich richer with more trade as long as you add the adjective “progressive.”

The facts, however, speak a different language. Wages are stagnant and great segments of industrial society perform meaningless work. Impoverishment is common. Conflict between elites in western democracies is escalating as globalists square off with nationalists.

Because political parties now behave like clueless cartels, populism has become “the new normal.” Tech monopolies and digital barons have willfully destabilized democracies and strengthened tyrants to grow richer yet.

Meanwhile economic inequality, a cancer for any civilization, accelerates while the world’s reigning billionaires largely operate in denial about the threats of climate change and the risks posed by the declining quality of energy fueling capitalism.

The brilliant Scottish political economist Mark Blyth calls it a crisis like no other: “This is the [most] serious challenge that capitalism as a model has faced since its inception.”

Act four: the grand illusion

851px version of TrudeauChineseBusinessLeaders.jpg
Making dumplings, collecting donations: In 2016, The Tyee helped expose Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s private fundraisers with wealthy Chinese business people — some with ties to the Communist Party. Photo from Dawa News.

Now enter Trudeau and his government of sunny ways.

One of his first acts as PM was to resurrect the idea of negotiating a bilateral agreement with the world’s second largest economy China — an idea the Harper government had shelved.

Trudeau, as neoliberals do, boasted that more trade would “foster an innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive world economy.”

At the same time, as The Tyee led in exposing, Trudeau merrily conducted private fundraisers with wealthy Chinese business people — some with ties to the Communist party, in private homes.

In 2016, high-ranking Chinese officials told Trudeau they might be interested in such a deal, but only if Canada removed investment restrictions on energy projects and built an energy pipeline to the coast.

While courting the world’s new imperial masters, Trudeau politely told a Davos audience that “globalization isn’t working for ordinary people.” But he said hiring and promoting more women in the workforce might fix the whole thing.

A year later Trudeau told Canadian businesses that they must now embrace globalization and make their fortunes in China. He did so during a fireside chat with Alibaba’s chief executive Jack Ma, the richest man in China.

To get the job done Trudeau appointed John McCallum, a trusted Liberal bagman and former banker, as Canada’s ambassador to China. One of Xi’s global goals is to “make the foreign serve China.” Upon his arrival in China, McCallum told the Toronto Star without a hint of irony, “My slogan is more, more, more. We want to do more trade, more investment, more tourists.”

McCallum also threw roses at China with this statement: “In some important policy areas such as the environment, global warming, free trade, globalization, the policies of the government of Canada are closer to the policies of the government of China than they are to U.S. policies.” Really?

Meanwhile a big China debate erupted in Australia as a series of investigative reports detailed how thoroughly the Communist Party of China was infiltrating and undermining Australian politics. While spies and operatives tried to control Australia’s Chinese community, Chinese billionaires openly funded political parties.

Americans took notice of the furor in Australia while the Canadian government ignored the growing evidence of rank imperialism and continued its trade dance.

But then a new threat to a trade deal emerged in spring 2018.

That’s when a highly indebted Kinder Morgan threatened to pull the plug on the uneconomic expansion of Trans Mountain pipeline. Publicly the Texas firm blamed protestors, but privately, experts concluded, it couldn’t raise the money to fund the mega-project.

No matter. Trudeau’s government stepped in and bought the 65-year-old pipeline because no other investors would touch it. Trudeau claimed it was in the national interest and that the Chinese would pay higher prices for heavy oil. Economist Jeff Rubin describes that claim as complete fiction, because the U.S. Gulf Coast refineries remain the largest market for heavy crude.

But the best explanation for the gross overpayment of a private pipeline by the government remains this: Trudeau needed to meet a pivotal Chinese condition on closing any free trade deal as stipulated by Chinese officials in 2016. It might also explain why the National Energy Board never did a proper study on the projects economic risks and benefits.

Act five: the reckoning

On Dec. 1, Canadian authorities detained Meng Wanzhou at the Vancouver airport, and the Meng Affair began in earnest.

Calling the arrest “unreasonable, unconscionable and vile in nature,” Chinese officials threatened consequences and then delivered the same way the British Empire once did with gunboats on the Yangtze River. By kidnapping and jailing two Canadians, including former diplomat Michael Korvig, President Xi’s government revealed the tyrannical face behind Globalization 2. Xi’s government also changed a 15-year sentence for a Canadian drug trafficker to a sentence of death.

Trudeau called the actions “unacceptable.”

He promised not to interfere in the extradition hearings, and thereby uphold the rule of law.

But then McCallum, presumably on orders from Ottawa, delivered a different message to the Chinese-language media in Toronto — a message that would have assuaged Chinese authorities. McCallum said Meng had a “strong argument” to fight her extradition case against the U.S. because of comments made by Trump. He also suggested her extradition “would not be a happy outcome.”

Wouldn’t it be “great” if the U.S. and China would settle their trade dispute and forget about the extradition, he added two days later.

After those remarks generally outraged Canadians, McCallum later apologized and said he “misspoke.” Incredibly the ambassador also characterized the hostage taking in response to Meng’s arrest as nothing more than “a big hiccup” in the golden age of Chinese and Canadian relations.

Several days later Trudeau fired McCallum with no explanation.

After Meng’s arrest, Nebraskan Senator Ben Sasse, who “thinks every day about leaving the Republican Party,” said what Canadian authorities have not: “Sometimes Chinese aggression is explicitly state-sponsored and sometimes it’s laundered through many of Beijing’s so-called ‘private’ sector entities that are in bed with Xi’s communist party.”

Act six: fingers in all pots

Earlier this year Canada’s Security Intelligence Service released an important report on Chinese state influence in New Zealand. “Fingers in All Pots: The Threat of Foreign Interference in Democratic Systems” makes grim reading.

Based on an influential 2017 paper that rattled New Zealand politics, it found that the Communist Party of China had pursued an aggressive campaign “to influence political decision-making, pursue unfair advantages in trade and business, suppress criticism of China, facilitate espionage opportunities, and influence overseas Chinese communities.”

The report, a must read for Canadians, found nothing innovative or progressive about the interference:

“The impact of China’s political influence activities on New Zealand democracy has been profound: a curtailing of freedom of speech, religion and association for the ethnic Chinese community, a silencing of debates on the People’s Republic of China in the wider public sphere, and a corrupting influence on the political system through the blurring of personal, political and economic interests.”

Canadians, most of whom never favored massive free trade deals or cozy relationships with one-party states, will now be asking one question:

When will their government climb down the tree and protect our national security interests?

At Davos this year, the big gabfest for the status quo, the Chinese predictably dominated events. At a session on how “global orders fail,” Fang Xinghai, the vice chairman of the Chinese government’s main securities regulator, lectured the audience, as superpowers like to do.

“You have to realize that democracy is not working very well,” Fang said. “You need political reforms in your countries.”

He’s right about that.

Checking the corrosive influence of the Chinese state in Canadian affairs is a good place to start.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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