Canada’s defeat in its bid for a United Nations Security Council seat, coupled with China‘s decision to charge two arbitrarily detained Canadians with espionagem marks the worst week for Canadian foreign policy in recent memory, says one former ambassador to Beijing.
In interviews with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, David Mulroney and foreign policy expert Daniel Markey said that Chinese attempts to exact painful leverage over countries that do not bow to its will require a strategic response beyond what the Canadian government has shown so far.
“In many ways, it’s one of the most disastrous weeks for Canadian foreign policy in recent memory,” said Mulroney about both the second consecutive loss of a bid for a Security Council seat and China’s move to charge Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor with espionage.
“We now have witnessed the death of one particular form of Canadian foreign policy such as it was. The world apparently has decided that is does not need more Canada.”
“Sometimes you can move on from a disaster,” he continued.
“They should start with getting the China policy right.”
Canada lost its second bid for one of the two rotating “Western bloc” seats to Ireland and Norway.
It received even fewer votes than in the failed 2010 bid under Stephen Harper’s government.
At the same time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brushed off questions from journalists on Friday about why he has not used stronger language to condemn the Chinese decision to formally charge Kovrig and Spavor, and instead said only that he is “disappointed” at the news.
He also would not answer whether he considers Kovrig and Spavor to be hostages.
“In the case of the two Michaels, I can say that we are using a wide range of public and private measures to ensure that everything is being done to get these Michaels home,” he said.
“We do expect both Michaels will come back.”
Both were detained following the detention by Canadian authorities of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 at the behest of American authorities, with whom Canada has an extradition treaty.
The Americans have since charged Meng and Huawei with dozens of counts related to allegations of stealing corporate secrets and skirting U.S. sanctions on Iran.
China’s ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu directly linked the case of the two Canadians with Meng’s in an interview on The West Block last month, and Mulroney said the government should respond with actions such as raising the travel advisory for China in coordination with countries like Australia and Sweden.
“The Chinese are reminding us the world is much more dangerous, much colder,” he said, adding that Canadians deserve to know just how risky it is for them to go there.
Markey, a senior research professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said China is rapidly expanding its influence around the world and that only in places where it meets “rocky shores” will that influence be limited.
“The best way to think about China’s rising growth and power is like a rising tide that’s extending to various parts of the world, filling in welcoming inlets with Chinese influence and increasingly, in some places like Australia, hitting rocky shores,” he said.
“The local reaction to China, in many ways, will determine where this rising tide nets China the most influence.”
A coordinated response will be key, said Markey, author of a recent book exploring the expansion of Chinese influence throughout Eurasia.
“Canada’s not alone and that in itself suggests the roots of a policy solution,” he said. “Canada and other states around the world that face this kind of challenge from China really have to band together.”
But so far, Mulroney said the Canadian response makes it clear “there’s no cost” to China for its actions.