I was quite surprised to hear Conservative leader Andrew Scheer last night announcing a foreign policy approach that is more anti-China than much I’ve heard in recent years.
“We should engage in a way that how our values and our interest are in many respects incompatible with those of the Chinese government,” said Scheer in a speech last night in which he laid out his approach to foreign affairs.
He noted that many in Canada have seen China as a place with which to expand and diversify Canada’s export markets, “but in recent years it has become clear that China’s adversarial approach to Canada and the western democratic world has changed those expectations. This is deeply disappointing.”
He mentions the Canadian citizens jailed in China on trumped-up charges of espionage. Then he ties it to trade.
“We have known all of this for some time, yet for many years we looked the other way, as the allure of China’s market was too powerful to ignore. However, so long as China is willing to hold our exports hostage, all while committing human rights violations, we have no choice as Canadians but to consider other trading partners.” Those partners, he suggests, are most naturally “like-minded democracies.”
Bang! There’s a shot into any hopes China had that it was going to split Canadian politics and people into pro-Beijing and anti-Beijing factions in the lead-up to the election. The Liberal government has been resolute in refusing to sell-out Canadian values to make China happy (so far, at least), and the Tories are claiming that they’d be tougher. Sometimes parties on the left like to side with foreign countries in disputes with western capitalist democracies (i.e. Venezuela’s Maduro regime), but last week an NDP MP pushed federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau on when her government would push back against China’s insults to Canada. If anything, China’s actions appear to be forming a cross-party anger at the country, and that probably reflects Canadian public opinion. None of this is playing well – for China.
I was pleasantly surprised by the results I got in the last 24 hours from a Twitter poll I ran about whether Canada should retaliate for Chinese actions. Of the 313 people who responded (I’m not sure how many were Russian bots) 51 percent agreed with “Yes. Make them pay too,” 14 percent supported “Maybe, if they escalate,” and 15 percent signed on for “Yes: Gunboats up the river.” Only 20 percent agreed with “No. We’re small and weak.” People are getting their backs up about China.
I don’t know how many farmers are in that sample, although I have a heavy weighting of farmers and farm-related people in my follower base. Farmers are the most affected by Chinese belligerence so far, other than the jailed individuals in China, and probably more keen to get any deal they can to re-open the crucial Chinese market for Canadian canola. Yet I’ve heard few argue that Canada should give China whatever it demands. Farmers want access to China, but I expect most want a negotiated deal between equals and agreement-following parties, not a craven submission to a trade tyrant.
How’s this going to evolve? Who knows? But as we head towards a federal election, there aren’t too many signs that China is going to be able to divide and conquer the Canadian electorate.