Well, it has been a breath-taking week in international affairs and the best indicator yet that so to speak, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” By acting on a US legal request to arrest for extradition Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, Canada has earned an over the top response from China that to date has also been accompanied by the arrest of two Canadians in China on “national security” concerns. The response of the Chinese government and media includes words like “revenge” and “heavy price” with respect to what Canada will face if Meng Wanzhou is not ultimately released. This all comes at a time when China’s economy is increasingly seen as a source of opportunity for Canada with a desire to boost trade via sectoral agreements.
And to top it all off, President Trump has basically made Canada look like the ultimate puppet state by arguing that he could intervene in the dispute and let Meng Wanzhou off the hook if it was useful in securing trade concessions from China. The Rule Breaker in Chief has made it apparent that he is just fine without a rules-based international order. There really is very little that seems to distinguish the tenor of the President’s behaviour from that of other authoritarian leaders around the world. God bless America for a constitution that has a division of powers and checks and balances for otherwise all of this could be much worse – as hard as that might be to believe.
It goes without saying that it is becoming an increasingly difficult time for a small open economy on the world stage. Over the last year, the NAFTA negotiations with the United States and Mexico involved public insults directed at Canada’s leadership while Saudi Arabia had a major tantrum over our views on human rights issues. Even if Canada had done a better job of politically tiptoeing around these assorted landmines, it remains that we would still get bullied because we are viewed as small and not of sufficient consequence. Even China’s recent diatribes against us are really directed at the United States given that they can send it a message by targeting what they obviously perceive to be its “vassal” state. So much for their respect for us.
While China undoubtedly has some valid points in this diplomatic dispute as expressed by its Ambassador to Canada in a recent Globe opinion piece, it remains that its behaviour is reflective of an insecure adolescent on the world stage. When a country of 1.3 billion people that claims to be an up and coming world superpower unleashes such an stream of invective and vitriol on a small country of 37 million people, one does not see an injured party but a bully. Only a bully terrorizes the small fry while treading lightly with the bigger kids.
So where is this going next? Well, it is unfortunate Canada cannot seriously consider getting a membership with the European Union because quite frankly, it has become a pretty friendless world. We can’t even rely much on our Anglosphere friends because Australia and New Zealand are small like us while the United States is on a world disorder frenzy and the British are busy immolating themselves over Brexit. So, we are on our own.
We need to do what we do best. Remain polite and play the hand that we have been dealt as best we can and ride out the storm. Weather analogies are good - we can't control the weather, we only deal with it and Canadians are used to dealing with bad weather. We need to reach out to the Chinese at a senior level and reassure them that we are doing everything we can to resolve this issue in a fair, responsible and rules based manner. We need to reach out to the Americans and ask for reassurance that this is not just a trade manoeuvre and request that this matter be dealt with expeditiously. If anything, we might want to try and bring the two sides together to seek a diplomatic solution though given the rhetoric to date we would risk getting side swiped by both sides.
In the end, this will get resolved and life will go on. Indeed, President Trump’s own words provide the best excuse for us releasing Meng Wanzhou immediately – obviously, he thinks the arrest is a trade bargaining chip and not a matter of national security. If we were more opportunistic, that is exactly what we would do and stick it to the Americans given that they have no qualms about throwing us under the bus. However, we are polite and follow rules.
However, once the dust has settled, we really need to re-evaluate and review our international relationships – especially those involving the United States and China. In the case of the United States, given our economic integration and the fact that they take 75 percent of our exports, there is going to be little we can do except hope for the day when a new and more reasonable administration takes the White House. We share a continent with the Americans and not with China and that is that. They can be bullies too when occasion warrants but our ties with them have been long standing. In a sense, we are not caught in the middle between China and the United States, we are with the US given our shared history and geography.
As for China, well that requires some more thought. Given mercurial and aggressive behaviour on the part of China when they don’t get their way and their willingness to bully, we do need to be very careful that we do not become as dependent on their economy as we have become with the Americans. I’m not sure the Chinese market is worth greater access to us given the potential costs to our businesses and our sovereignty when China decides they are unhappy with us and wish to punish us. Nobody likes being slapped around and if they do, you need to either break off the relationship or minimize contact via a more structured relationship. It’s a big world and there are other customers for our wares. We need to trade with countries that behave in a less vindictive manner when it comes to international issues.