“The roots of the pandemic are in a cover-up by CCP authorities in Wuhan, Hubei province.”
Since then, the Canadian government has faced questions over its unwillingness to use similar language.
I am largely, even if not entirely, sympathetic to the signatories’ conclusion. (The failure of much of the international community to take public health security seriously over the last number of decades is also a real problem.) Moreover, credible sources confirm a number of their specific accusations.
But the implication that Ottawa should be speaking out loudly at this point is puzzling.
The Toronto Star’s Martin Regg Cohn, with whom I often agree, thinks it’s intolerable that we are “behaving like boy scouts at the multilateral level — deferring to diplomacy and authority.” The thoughtful former diplomat David Mulroney has said of the government: “I think they are genuinely afraid of China, and therefore flattery is their default position.”
It seems to me that Canada’s elected political representatives should be afraid right now, very afraid.
Two innocent Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, have been unfairly detained in a Chinese prison for over a year in retaliation for Ottawa’s legitimate arrest of Huwaei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, in response to an American extradition request. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the two Michaels – who were never treated humanely to begin with – have been denied even their monthly consular visit.
So the Chinese government has a propensity for retaliation, and innocent Canadians are in the direct line of fire.
Consider also, as the prime minister has hinted, that Ottawa is sourcing some of the medical supplies so crucial to its management of the pandemic from China. Again, it makes good sense right now to avoid anything that might provoke a retaliatory response.
Third, Beijing's mismanagement of this crisis is already clear. Its influence in the World Health Organization is being undermined; its influence in Africa is suffering as well.
Regg Cohn suggests that Canada can act indirectly by supporting Taiwan’s entry into the World Health Organization. I don’t disagree, so long as such advocacy is part of a broad-based coalition that immunizes the Michaels from direct blow-back.
Indeed, Ottawa has already taken the prudent position of demanding a full investigation of the international community’s response to the outbreak of COVID-19 once the pandemic is under control.
For now, however, it might also consider the following:
- Launch a strategy to develop the domestic capacity to source materials critical to national security (including public health security) here at home, if not with our most trusted NATO allies. The strategy can build on the Canada-United States Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration signed this past January.
- Strongly encourage Bell and Telus to voluntarily end their plans to build their 5G networks with the Chinese firm Huawei. Bell and Telus claim that the cost of rejecting Huawei would be immense, but the current economic crisis provides an opening for Ottawa to offer funding to mitigate the impact. If no Canadian businesses are willing to work with Huawei, there will be no need to invite the retaliation that will inevitably come from banning the company altogether.
I understand that some Canadians interpret prudence as cowardice. And I suspect that some of our allies would appreciate greater boldness as well.
But the government of the day must defend and protect its citizens, and for now that means minimizing any further harm to the two Michaels, and to other Canadians who currently depend on Chinese benevolence.
On Canada and China, I enjoy reading Wendy Dobson and Paul Evans. Both are also true professionals. Dobson’s most recent book, Living with China: A Middle Power Finds its Way, is a finalist for this year’s Donner Prize.
If you need something longer to read while sheltering from the virus at home, you can find some my books here, here, or here.
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