Relations between Canada and China have sunk to an all-time low since Canada responded to an extradition request from the U.S. in early December 2018 and arrested Meng Wanzhou, a chief executive with telecommunications giant Huawei. In what looks like retaliation, China arrested a former Canadian diplomat and a businessman and is holding them in difficult conditions and with little access to consular officials. Shortly after, a Chinese court sentenced Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death, quickly overturning a 15-year prison term that had been handed down earlier.
Canada, China issued travel advisories
Canada issued a travel advisory for citizens travelling to China and then China issued one for its citizens wishing to visit Canada.
Since then, China has issued scathing criticism of Canada including suggestions that it has few allies and saying the prime minister should “correct mistakes and stop making irresponsible remarks.”
The escalation of rhetoric is seen China’s trying to increase pressure on Canada to release Meng. Several analysts see this as a fight between the United States and China with Canada caught in the middle.
`China will respect you more,`says activist
“I believe China has been flexing its muscles on the world stage and certainly, as a mid-level country, Canada is seen as the soft power…that China can bully. And this is something that I think we have to correct,” says Cheuk Kwan, a human rights activist and spokesperson for the Toronto Association for Democracy in China.
“China is playing a high-stakes game and I think we should too. I think China will respect you more if you play hard ball with them,” says Kwan. He believes Canada has leverage in that China wants more from Canada that Canada wants from it. China needs resources from Canada.
Several of Canada’s allies have banned Huawei from supplying new 5G networks over data security concerns but Canada is still deciding whether it should too. Kwan says the issue could be raised and used as a bargaining chip.
Activist Cheuk Kwan explains why he thinks Canada should stand up to China.Listen
Trade should not be an issue, says activist
Countries may be disinclined to speak out against China because of concerns over trade relation, but Kwan says Canada should remember that its trade with China amounts to less than four per cent of its total trade.
“I don’t think we should be fooled by the fact that while China has a one-billion person market that we could tap into. I think that’s being a bit naive.”
In the past Canada has had good relations with China starting with Dr. Norman Bethune who is widely revered for medical service and training he provided to Mao Zedong’s guerilla army. Later, Canada become one of the first countries to recognize the Communist regime and later still, provided wheat during a famine.
But times have changed. Kwan says Chinese President Xi Jinping is a strongman who is intent on raising China’s place in the world. He is also intent of obtaining the release of Meng.
Kwan says relations between Canada and China could remain strained for as long as Meng is detained, and that could take years. In the meantime, he urges Canada to stand up to China and make the best of the situation.