Canada must find an answer to the China problem

As Canadians, we need to figure out how we’re going to reconcile economics with morality when it comes to China. | File photo

Got to love China for all the products they buy from us. At the same time, got to deplore China for their human rights record. As Canadians, we need to figure out how we’re going to reconcile economics with morality.

The Conservative opposition in Ottawa scored a big political win against the governing Liberals with a motion supported by all opposition parties calling the Chinese treatment of its Uighur Muslim population genocide.

Even Liberal backbench MPs supported the motion. Government cabinet members were mostly absent from the House except for one lone cabinet minister who abstained from the vote. Proof positive, trumpeted the Conservatives, of the Liberals being soft on China.

For his part, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemns the human rights violations in China, but stops short of calling it genocide. The vast majority of farmers in Western Canada are not Trudeau supporters, but on this issue Trudeau is probably acting in the best economic interests of agriculture.

More than anything else in the marketplace, it has been the Chinese demand for Canadian barley, peas, wheat and even canola that has propelled prices higher. Push the Chinese too far and they will retaliate. That’s what happened to Australian farmers.

You might argue that China has to import grains and meat from somewhere and if they don’t buy from Canada, trade patterns will adjust and we’ll just sell to someone else. In theory that makes sense. It practice, they could inflict significant economic harm if they wanted to.

Beyond the treatment of its Uighur Muslims, China is clamping down on Hong Kong. Two Canadians, the two Michaels, have been detained in China for more than two years because Canada honoured its extradition treaty with the United States and has detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

What’s the upside to even stronger rhetoric against the Chinese government? Would this change how China acts? Would it lead to an earlier release of the detained Canadians?

On the other hand, nations need to stand up against atrocities, and the U.S government under both presidents Trump and Biden has labelled the persecution in China as genocide. The term was first applied to describe Nazi actions during the Holocaust.

In an eerie parallel, Germany hosted the Olympics in 1936 attended by countries from around the world. This was just ahead of actions that would precipitate the Second World War.

The 2022 Winter Olympics are scheduled for Beijing. Do countries from around the world send their Olympic athletes or do they decline to participate? What should Canada do?

Very few countries have a spotless record on human rights. Canada’s past treatment of First Nations people can be labelled as genocide. Some point to the high percentage of First Nations people in the prison system as a sign of ongoing racial discrimination.

When do actions become so egregious that nations need to take a stand? Beyond condemnations and potentially boycotting the 2022 Olympics, what else would like-minded nations be willing to do?

Post-pandemic, this could become the next worldwide crisis. When actions move beyond rhetoric, trade is often the next lever that countries employ. Unfortunately, countries willing to turn a blind eye to Chinese actions stand to benefit economically and there will be many in that camp.

Canada has a moral duty to oppose atrocities wherever they occur, but there’s little upside to unilateral condemnation. A chorus of voices is needed from as many like-minded nations as possible. Otherwise, our export-oriented agriculture faces a high probability of disruptions.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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