VANCOUVER—Western democracies should work out a formalized arrangement to support each other in the face of economic coercion by the Chinese government, say Canadian MPs.
Measures to ensure a coordinated response when China’s attempts to force its will upon countries via economic action were discussed at the G7 and Conservative foreign affairs critic, Michael Chong, said it represents an opportuity for Canada.
“I think our allies are serious about working more closely together in countering these threats,” Chong said. “I think they’re watching very closely whether or not Canada will join them and uphold the fundamental principles that underpin our democracies.”
Talk about more formal resistance to China’s economic pressures leaked out of the G7 meeting of foreign ministers this week in London, according to a Bloomberg report.
The bulletin did not name sources, but said the ministers spent 90 minutes during the conference talking about China’s use of economic threats and its “belt-and-road” initiative, which builds infrastructure around the world with China’s economic goals in mind, to force countries to do what it wants.
It said the United States wants a consultation mechanism to ensure a co-ordinated response to such attempts by China. But the statement released by the G7 after the forum made no mention of concrete actions to form such a strategy, but it chastised China’s international behaviour and human rights abuses.
The G7 report came a few days after Australian MP, Ted O’Brien, penned a column for the Australian Financial Review calling for liberal democracies to develop a strategy to collectively combat Beijing’s “economic coercion,” saying such a plan would be difficult, but is needed.
“China is weaponizing trade and investment to pursue geostrategic outcomes for which earlier nations and empires would have used armed conflict,” O’Brien wrote. “And it’s getting away with it.”
O’Brien wrote Beijing aims to create an international order with more reliance on power imbalances and less on international law, calling organizations like the United Nations “incapable” and lacking authority of dealing with such threats.
Beijing has been targeting Canberra with trade sanctions since Australia demanded an investigation into the origins of COVID-19. Beijing has also been holding Australian citizen and journalist, Cheng Lei, and charged her with espionage crimes in a way that bears a similarity to the cases of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
Liberal MP, and outspoken China critic, John McKay told the Star Australians are more aware of threats presented by China’s government than Canadians, and he said international unification of efforts to counter pressure from China would be a good move.
McKay said the Chinese Communist Party is trying to turn the rest of the world into “vassal states,” pointing to the disputes between Australia and China, and must be countered.
“We are far more vulnerable than we recognize,” McKay said of Canada.
McKay said using existing treaties to work out some sort of formal arrangement would be more practical than introducing a new agreement.
Australia recently tore up deals related to China’s belt-and-road initiative, which comes on top of other actions China has condemned. Its bold moves have come despite China accounting for nearly 40 per cent of Australia’s export market in 2020, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Meanwhile, Canada has had its own challenges with China. After the arrest of Huawei CFO, Meng Wanzhou, at Vancouver’s airport in 2018 Spavor and Kovrig were arrested and tried on spying allegations. The verdict in their trials has not been delivered. China has also restricted canola and pork products from Canada in recent years.
Only about four per cent of Canada’s exports are bound for China, but Canada is far less likely to stand up to Beijing, Chong said.
He said when the Trump administration put tariffs on Canadian aluminum last year, it only took hours for Canada to announce counter measures against the U.S. in response, showing Ottawa can handle a larger country.
“We are very adept at dealing with this asymmetrical relationship and there’s no reason why we couldn’t take a similar approach to the economic relationship with have with China,” he said. “I think it would be more effective, in respect to China, if we worked multilaterally if we worked with countries like Australia, the United States, Japan and India in countering these economic threats.”
New Democrat foreign affairs critic, Jack Harris, said it appears the talk about formalizing resistance to China was rejected by the G7 ministers because it wasn’t mentioned in their post-meeting statement, “and rightly so.”
Harris said the G7 statement showed a consensus among G7 nations and a more “positive” approach to China. He said western nations need to find ways to “show” Beijing the way it has been operating is not in its interest.
“It’s not something that’s going to be solved by creating blocks challenging each other in aggressive ways,” Harris said. “We’re not going to force China into a hermit state like North Korea. There’s too much engagement already to want or have something like that.”
Harris said Canada doesn’t have much leverage against China because of its economic power. He said he isn’t sure what Canada could do on its own right now to solve the disputes it is having with Beijing, such as the detentions of Kovrig and Spavor. He said taking a tougher line wouldn’t necessarily make a difference.
Meanwhile, Charles Edel, a global fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Wilson Center, said China has continued to pressure other countries because it has yet to see an effective response from the international community.
Edel said the only thing China responds to is “concerted counter pressure.”
But, he said, while the logic behind formalizing such an alliance is solid, the mechanics of it are difficult.
“Because China has become so much more aggressive and explicit in their use of economic coercion over the past year, I think there is a bigger appetite than there was before,” Edel said.
“Doing something formally on this, and even as someone who advocates it, is something quite challenging diplomatically.”