00:04 – Jordan: This is one of those stories that starts with a news event that makes bold headlines.
00:09 – News Clip: The Markets in Asia and the U. S. falling sharply on news that a top Chinese executive has been arrested in Canada…. Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou appearing today in BC Supreme Court. She’s since been released on $10,000,000 bail awaiting possible extradition to the US, a move she’s about to fight.
00:28 – Jordan: From there, the narrative splits into stories about retaliation, stories about political posturing, trade stories and business stories and technology stories. Most of these items are small enough that unless you’re really paying attention, you might not notice them. But they are all part of the same big story, and that story is still unfolding, even when it’s not dominating headlines.
00:50 – News Clip: Yesterday the US president signed an executive order effectively banning US telecom companies from using Huawei technology for 5G…. Canada updating its travel advisory for China, telling Canadians to exercise a high degree of caution in China….. Canada’s rocky relationship with China hit another bump today. Beijing has now blocked canola imports from a second Canadian producer, Vatera, over alleged contamination by pests.
01:17 – Jordan: And so then one day you look up, and your country is four months out from an important election and finds itself caught directly between two superpowers with no easy way out. So what happens now? How did Canada and China’s relationship end up here? Can the Liberals really soften their talk and deescalate tensions in the middle of an election? And if they do do that and Donald Trump doesn’t like it, what happens then?
01:49 – Jordan: I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. This is a big story about Iraq and a hard place, and us. David Moscrop is one of our favorite geopolitical analysts, he is a political scientist, and he is the author of Too Dumb for Democracy. Let’s start with the really basic, simple stuff. How is Canada’s relationship with China right now?
02:10 – David: It’s pretty awful. Unless something has changed in the last couple of hours, and I don’t think it has, it is t one of the lower point the that’s being out in years. When I was doing my masters, I became deeply interested in international relations and China, and so I took a course on China, studied IR, studied global international political economy, and so that’s the baseline that I’m going from my head. I tuned out for a couple of years, I was expecting to move to China and I didn’t. But then in the last year or so I delved back in, especially in the last six months, and there’s been a notable decline since Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou on request of the Americans who would like her extradited to the US, where she’s indited on a couple dozen or so charges of working with Iran, which is under American sanctions, and that was really the sort of opening salvo in a deteriorating relationship between Canada and China. And that sort of decline has been marked by, obviously the arrest. But then China banning Canadian canola imports, arresting two Canadian nationals, Michael Covert and Michael Spower, sentencing two Canadians to death on drug charges, and Canada considering banning Huawei for 5G technology, which the Americans would very much like us to do. So you can see from that sort of quick rundown of the last several months, half year or so, a growing tension. But a fundamental riffed surrounding largely long term geopolitical interests.
03:55 – Jordan: Explain for me, if you can, how Huawei is tied to the Chinese government because I think here in the West, in the coverage that we get it almost seems like an arm of the government, and I don’t understand that so well.
04:10 – David: Yeah, I don’t think it is. I mean, I’m not a China expert, I’m a, you know, writer, observer, political scientist who studies democracy, interested in this. And so it’s something I I track across several different types of reporting. So it’s interesting to see how different countries report on it, how international media reports on it, but also how business media reports on it versus political media. And one of the things you see is that there is some doubt, to the degree to which Huwaei is connected to the Chinese government, and, as one observer pointed out, there’s no smoking gun. But the concern is that either now or at some point, Huwaei technology could be used in at least one of two ways to undermine geopolitical interests, including economic interests and corporate interests, and one is through the Chinese government requesting data from the company extra territorial and accompany the, to comply. So one is, you know, if the Chinese government says, look, this is the rules, give us the data and they have no choice. It’s a little bit akin to the U. S. Patriot Act, and if you’ve got stuff; but that’s a domestic thing. So if you’re a Canadian that uses Gmail and your stuff is stored on American servers, the US government can access that stuff under the Patriot Act, right? This is one of the concerns with using American service in American technology. It’s a bit like that. So it’s not like this is just a China issue in their concerns with the United States, for instance, as well. So that’s one of them, is that the Chinese government will be able to request that information. And from what I’ve read, that is generally probably true that the government asked for it, Huwaei would have to provide it. The other is that Huwaei would actually build back doors into the technology that would allow spies…. the chinese state to directly access that data through the back door. Now China has a long history of corporate espionage, stealing ideas, stealing intellectual property. They’re not the only ones, of course. I mean, a lot of America was built on stealing intellectual property, but that is part and parcel of the struggle.
06:15 – Jordan: You mentioned, um, America a couple of times. First, because we arrested ah, a Huwaei CFO on their request. And second, because there may now be some pressure to not allow Huwaei on the 5G network because of them. How does our relationship with the states play into diplomacy with China and what’s Canada going to do if we’re caught in the middle?
06:38 – David: I don’t know. I mean, I would not want to be Krista Freeland right now because there isn’t an immediate, obvious good solution to this, if you’re thinking geopolitically. I mean if you’re worried about your relationship with the United States for all kinds of reasons the U. S. has been in a long term decline, then you have a problem. Especially if you want to look around the world, and develop new alliances and new relationships, and China’s one of those. Especially if you rely on China for things like canola…. exporting canola, which is significant for Canadian farmers. On the other hand, you’re dealing with Donald Trump, whose mercurial at the best of times. And you’re trying to get the U. S. M. C.A agreement ratified which is increasingly difficult and unlikely in the current U. S. Congress, it might have to wait. So what do you do? You’re bound to the US for other reasons too. The border, the movement of goods and individuals, you know, whatever it was 80% or so of our trade, but also in defense, right? I mean, there are defense arrangements, whether it’s NORAD or NATO. And then on top of that, we’re part of the Five Eyes intelligence community and there are U. S. Concerns that if those countries allow; countries that a part of the five eyes allow Huwaei technology, they may not want to share intelligence with them for fear that it’s compromised. So what do you do if your Canada? I have no idea, you know, Eve who’s a scholar at U. B. C. is a China scholar, Asia pacific scholar thinks that the immediate move is you de-escalate with China and you try to re balance that relationship. The more I think about it, the more I think he’s on to something, but as I’ve written recently for The Globe and Mail, we also ought to think forward 50 to 100 years, and think of what kind of international order we want to be a part of building to ensure that we have a just and ideally democratic world order governed by very careful norms about what countries do to one another and to their own people.
08:45 – Jordan: Well how does China’s global strategy play into what Canada’s facing because you’ve used sort of outlined some of their bigger strategies towards trade and trying to lead that international order?
08:58 – Jordan: Ya so the Chinese built in Rome; I’ve become sort of modestly obsessed with the Chinese belt and road initiative.
09:05 – David: Explain exactly what the belt and road initiative is for those of us who are hearing about it for the first time.
09:10 – Jordan: So it’s several years old now. It dates to give or take 2013, and what it is is, in short, to over simplify a little bit, an attempt to recreate the Silk Road through a massive roughly one trillion dollar US infrastructure and development program that’ll stretch across give or take about between 60 and 70 countries, and you know dozens of organizations. And this is effectively China launching a massive investment throughout the world. Now, you know, depending on how you see it’s a bit of a Rorschach test for your perspective on China. You could be seen as a development project. It could be seen as a dead trap where China’s investing in these countries that has them on the hook, largely like by the way developed countries have been doing around the world for years. In you know, for instance, through IMF programs. But it’s also potentially a projection of military force, and building of ally ships, strategic partnerships, while in the Americas in Western Asia, in Africa. It now has a growing military component as well to some extent, for instance, with Pakistan, who is building Chinese fighter jets. Depending on how you see it, it’s some combination of development program, infrastructure program, military program and debt trap, a big geopolitical play to help China direct the global order in the next century.
10:45 – David: If one of the options is to de-escalate with China, and ease the tensions, and kind of become become more of a part of what they’re doing, can the liberal government do that in an election year? I mean, they’ve been standing tough so far. Can they turn around and deescalate this thing without losing face? What would the other parties have them do?
11:05 – David: I’m very curious to, I mean, Andrew Sheer’s line is that he wants to reset the relationship. I don’t know what that means, what that would look like. I don’t know if this is a get tough on China plan or what you possibly do to get tough. The NDP’s perspective is that China has been sort of bucking the international order for years, and they talk a lot about rights and rules, but they don’t follow them themselves. The Liberals have been trying to, for instance, negotiate some sort of settlement, obviously on canola, but also to try to secure the release of Mike Covert in Swayvor. China has been hesitant to take meetings, high level meetings and we don’t have an ambassador in China currently, and the Chinese ambassador is leaving at the end of the month. He’s being quote unquote promoted to Paris, so… now he hasn’t exactly been, I think, particularly easy to work with. And obviously, if you remember back to John McCallum, who has retired by Prime Minister Trudeau, that relationship wasn’t particularly productive I think either. So they’re caught. So I don’t know what they do in an election year, because even if they get tough on China, rhetoric might play well to some, it’s not going to serve the country well. It’s not going to serve canola farmers, it’s not going to serve detained Canadians, it’s not going to serve two Canadians who are right now have been sentenced to death on drug charges in China, and it’s not going to serve our long term interests. I think the thing that you’ve got to do is do what’s right for the country long term. Deescalate, but then also think about what a reordering looks like, including potentially a counter investment program that is a sort of unified North American, even North American European investment scheme. We have something roughly like that that’s being run, but it’s sort of peanuts compared to what the government directed investment is out of Beijing.
13:04 – Jordan: Do we have a sense and maybe this is a silly question to ask about the American administration, but do we have a sense of how much rope Canada has here, too, to play between the two powers?
13:15 – David: I suspect there are people who do. I think if you were to ask a handful of experts, you’ve get a couple of different responses. You know we’re a fairly minor player, that’s the fact. We are indeed a medium power, and it’s no more evident than anywhere than it is right here. We are caught between two superpowers. But one thing is, China is fairly sensitive about its image. It’s fairly concerned about saving face. The Chinese Communist Party governs in part; I mean the legitimacy comes in part, from their ability to secure investment in returns. I mean, if you’re; the good thing about democracy is you get your legitimacy from election, if you don’t like it, you lose. The Chinese don’t have elections. So the legitimacy of the Communist Party comes from their abilities to deliver the goods. That requires them to have trade relationships, and certainly at the moment that includes Canada and the United States. So there is a moment where we, I think we could have some influence because there’s a trading relationship, and China doesn’t want to be an international pariah. But you gotta play those cards very carefully, and we shouldn’t overestimate the strength of the hand.
14:35 – Jordan: Does Canada have any lovers that we can pull? I mean so far this conversation has kind of been we’re between a rock and a hard place. Is there anything we can…. do we have any sticks?
14:47 – David: So people often quote facilities, but you sort of misunderstand the context in which they quote him. There’s a great line in international affairs, although that’s a bit of an anachronism. But in sort of struggles between powers, the strong do what they will and that weak do what they must. The acidifies was critiquing that, but nonetheless, he was right. I think to some extent that applies that we are on our own, you know, unable to pull very many levers. The one thing that we can do, is build an international coalition in an international effort, and to leverage that to get something done. So on his recent visit to Ottawa U. S. Vice president Mike Pence talked about this, and supported Canada in our efforts now, to settle this relation, to settle these challenges. He would do that because the Americans have their own trade war and their own concerns about 5G technology and Huwaei, and their own geo political ambitions. So let’s not pretend that the U.S doesn’t have an interest here. But if the goal is to get these Canadians released, to settle the canola issue, then we can potentially build these relationships with other powers and try to leverage that, especially since China has obvious interest in the US market, and the European market. Or we can back down, and hope that you know several months down the line an immediate backing down will pay off right, and it would allow the Chinese to save face. But then I think the question then becomes okay, what then for the next 50 years? What does that look like? Because for years we’ve been operating the assumption that if we cooperate with the Chinese, they’ll improve their human rights record and they’ll democratize even right? This was what we were told in the nineties that you engage because engagement leads to detente, engagement leads to democratization, completes the growth of the free market, which supports to the right, etc etc. Looking at the Chinese treatment of ethnic minorities and religious minorities, the suppression of rights, Chinese individuals; cyber attacks, economic attacks and on countries around the world, I would argue that just simply hasn’t worked. So what is the counter look like? Long term. I think it looks like some mode of non exploitative,non colonial investment around the world where we try to repair a lot of the damage we’ve done over the past century and change.
17:24 – Jordan: Do we have a sense of how Canadian voters feel about this? First of all, I guess if they are even considering this as an issue and second of all, which way they’re leaning.
17:34 – David: I haven’t seen numbers. I would hypothesize that, as with most foreign affairs issues, to the extent that caves are paying attention, they’ll have, you know, rough sense of we’re in a kerfuffle, but they won’t care that much. You know, they’ll want us to stand up to China and bring our boys home… but you know, it’ll end kind of there, and no one’s going to base their vote on it. Not really. It’s rare for anyone, you know, there’s not a ton of single issue voters in the first place, and I suspect there are vanishingly few single issue voters who are concerned with, above all else, our relationship with China.
18:11 – Jordan: How dangerous is this game that we’re caught up in right now? Is their a worst case scenario? Or is this, uh, you know, diplomatic chess, and we might have a canola oil kerfuffle one way, and threats made the other way and detentions on both sides, but nothing else really happens. Or is this a crucible? I guess.
18:33 – David: I don’t think it’s a crucible. I mean again, I’m speaking as an interested observer and not an expert. But my sense is that it’s just not going to be worth anybody’s time or effort to escalate this much beyond where it already is. If you look at, for instance, military concerns, I don’t see any really, we’ll continue to… I mean, the Americans will continue to run ships you know, next door to China, as they have for years, and the Chinese will continue to be irritated. But in the short run, I don’t think it’s crucible. I think the long run is what do you do when the Chinese built on road initiative is done in 2049/ 2050. Then the question is okay, well, what’s the global order look like? Is it going to be a liberal, international order? Is it going to be, you know, a liberal Democratic International Order? Or is it going to be something I would argue even better, something that’s even more just, and inclusive and productive than that. Or is it going to be the sort of realist great power challenge between a declining American empire, and a rising Chinese empire? That will be the Crucible, I think. I can’t even imagine where Canada is going to be in the middle of that, especially, you figure we’ll also be right in the middle of the growth of extreme effects from climate change. That’ll be the crucible.
19:59 – Jordan: Well, that sounds like something worth looking forward.
20:02 – David: Yeah, you know, I always try to end on a hopeful note with this time. I don’t think I have anything.
20:07 – Jordan: Thanks, David.
20:08 – David: My pleasure.
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