Matt Gurney: On China, Canada could learn a lot from Australia

© Provided by National Post Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a news conference in Sydney on July 27.

Way down under, our Australian allies are facing Beijing’s wrath. And China’s not being subtle about it. This week, the Chinese government leaked a list of 14 grievances it has with Australia, and an official told an Australian reporter that, “China is angry. If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy.”

Well, gee, Chinese official, could you dumb it down a bit more for those of us in the cheap seats?

The list of grievances, according to Australian sources, include pushing for an investigation into the initial spread of COVID-19, cancelling Chinese student visas, blocking Chinese investment deals, leading international efforts to study China’s violations of human rights at home and abroad and, of interest to Canadian policy watchers, banning Huawei from contributing to Australia’s 5G telecommunication networks.

China says these actions, and more, are tantamount to poisoning the relationship between the two nations. Australia would be wise, China says, to improve its attitude and behaviour, if it knows what’s good for it. Australia is having none of it, thankfully. The prime minister said in a TV interview that his country’s democracy and values are not for sale.

“We won’t be compromising on the fact that we’ll set what our foreign investment laws are, or how we build our 5G telecommunications networks, or how we run our systems … that are protecting against any interference,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rightly declared. “We will always set our own laws and our own rules according to our national interests — not at the behest of any other nation, whether that’s the U.S. or China or anyone else.”

Meanwhile, up in Canada, our foreign affairs minister is also sending a message to China. A clear message. And that message is: come visit!

On Tuesday, the Conservatives brought forward a motion calling on the Liberals to get tougher on China. Specifically, it called for the government to “make a decision on Huawei’s involvement in Canada’s 5G network within 30 days” and “develop a robust plan, as Australia has done, to combat China’s growing foreign operations here in Canada and its increasing intimidation of Canadians living in Canada,” also within 30 days.

Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne, responding for the government, said many of the right things. He noted the continued captivity of the two Michaels, China’s oppressive behaviour at home and abroad and said that promoting and protecting human rights is a fundamental priority for Canada. Trade diversification — code for making us less economically dependent on China — is important, too, he said.

Then he added this: “We are aware that China is, and will remain, an important commercial partner for Canada. China is also a significant source of tourists and students to Canada, and brings economic and enriching social benefits across our nation.”

So there you have it. The position of our Liberal government, laid out in absolutely perfect concision: sure, they’re warehousing religious minorities in concentration camps and crushing freedom underfoot in Hong Kong, and yeah, they’re holding our citizens hostage and threatening our economy, but gosh, have you seen the spin-offs these tourists generate?

I’ll say this for the minister: he’s not bothering to hide it. If China was poor or never sent visitors, we’d have a much easier time finding the wherewithal to call its behaviour out for what it is, and take what modest and reasonable steps are actually within our means to apply a meaningful price to the Chinese government’s misdeeds, as the Australians have done. Canada is not a power on China’s level, to state the obvious, but there are things we could do, alone or in concert with our allies, that would provide at least some deterrent value.

But we don’t. And Champagne is at least showing us the courtesy of being open and honest about why. Since China is rich and spends a lot of money here, well, sure, human rights are fundamental, but so is the hospitality industry near the tourist traps. The world may need more Canada, as Liberals are fond of telling us, but Jasper needs more Chinese visitors, too. And if you can’t have both, we’ll take the tourists.

The timing of all this is particularly interesting. As the Post’s Christopher Nardi reported this week, the Communications Security Establishment’s Canadian Centre for Cyber Security just released a new report identifying Russia, North Korea, Iran and, yes, China, as the top cybersecurity threats to Canada.

The Russians are easy to view as hostile; we have decades of experience doing that and it was an old habit we fell back into with ease. The North Koreans, of course, are obviously and overtly nuts, and they don’t invest in our real estate, anyway, so sure, we can treat them like a threat, too. The Iranians are people the Trudeau government would like to re-establish relations with, but their public hanging of homosexuals makes that awkward (they also blew a plane full of Canadians out of the sky not long ago, which gives even Liberal foreign policy types pause).

But China? We still can’t quite bring ourselves to see its government for what it is. The Liberals can’t, at any rate — the Conservative motion passed with NDP and Bloc support, with most Liberals voting against (five Liberals broke ranks to support the motion, which is interesting).

Motions, alas, won’t quite cut the mustard. China is a real and growing threat to this country, which seems clear enough to everyone except the people who happen to be running it. Perhaps, as we pursue those trade diversification goals, we can look into importing a bit of Australian backbone. There’s an apparent shortage of it here.

National Post