Canada will play “Good cop, bad cop” with China

Either way, Canada shows few signs of buckling. It's not in Canada's nature

Canada’s playing Good cop/Bad cop with China.

It’s not an intentional strategy. It’s just the way that the psychology of this country is breaking down.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party are the ‘Good cop’ gang, hoping to use reasonableness, seeming friendliness, understanding and offers of help to get China to back off its punishment campaign against Canada without making Canada compromise anything serious. “This is probably just a misunderstanding. Why don’t we talk about it so we can clear things up?” That’s a highly effectie method of getting suckers to relax and reveal things they shouldn’t. That seems to be how JT and crew are trying to handle China: mellow out the giant and hope it relaxes enough to let things slip.

Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives are the “Bad cop” gang, promising to take a firmer and less conciliatory approach to China if the party is elected to government this October. “Enough with the chatter! Give us what we want or get ready to cool your heels in jail.” That approach works with spooked and fearful suspects, and can lead to quick admissions and confessions, only a minority of which are false. That seems to be the Conservative approach to China: “If you want to deal with us, learn to act like a law-abiding man, not a snot-nosed punk!”

Of course, neither approach is likely to achieve much with China. The country doesn’t need Canada, so it isn’t too keen to get over its present tantrum in order to be friends. And it’s not scared of Canada, so it doesn’t need to cop to anything in order to avoid Canadian retribution.

But the present differences in approach between the two natural governing parties of Canada highlights a policy split that’s likely to dominate Canada-China relations for decades to come. It’s constructive engagement versus principles-first.

What’s interesting isn’t so much that difference, which runs down the centre of the Canadian psyche, but the absence of any sign of Quisling accommodation with Chinese demands. There aren’t any signs of Canadians going a little red in Helsinki.

That’s good, because grovelling for forgiveness from China for Canada’s (legal act) of arresting a Chinese executive wanted on a U.S. warrant isn’t likely to achieve much more than win a temporary reprieve from China’s brutal and coercive behaviour, and would probably just lead to a permanent situation of subordination. China wants Canada to kowtow, but Canada doesn’t do that sort of thing. (Check “First World War;” “Second World War;” “Cold War” in the Wikipedia machine.) It would also cause Canada to breach its core values, and that would have a deeply corrosive effect on Canada’s soul. And it would once more keep Canada’s economic focus on China and the growth it seems to offer, right when we’ve been given the best lesson possible in why Canada should do everything it can to rely less upon China.

For a iteration of this argument by somebody who know’s what they’re talking about, see Remaking Canada’s China strategy: A new direction that puts Canadian interests first,” published by the non-partisan Macdonald-Laurier Institute and written by Charles Burton, who I have previously interviewed. I’ll talk more here tomorrow about their trade-specific discussion by Duanje Chen, but so you can get a sense of the tenor of the MLI perspective, here are a couple of sentences, one from the beginning and one from the end of the Burton piece:

“Over the past more than 25 years, Canadian political naivete and the greed of major Canadian corporations with strong links to senior politicians and civil servants with influence in the Prime Minister’s Office have led to a political dynamic highly favourable to the (Chinese Communist Party)’s interests in Canada . . .

“The PRC regime and the supporters of China’s authoritarian, one-party state capitalist political economy will surely kick back against any comprehensive assertions of Canada’s overall sustained national interest in regulation of Canada’s China policy. But the restoration of Canada’s national respect through a measured and principled approach to China is ultimate of the greatest sustained benefit to Canada, Canada’s like-minded allies, and, indeed, ultimately to China itself.”

It doesn’t take any courage to predict that either the Liberals or Conservatives are going to win the October federal election, so it looks like either way, Canada will be following either a nice-seeming or tough-seeming China policy for the next few years that contains little compromise and no kowtowing to the giant nation. In other words, whoever wins the election, expect more of the same with China from the Canadian side, just slightly differently packaged.

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