It’s time for Canada to distance itself from the repressive regime in Beijing

But Canada can emerge from this pandemic safer and stronger if Canadians are clear-eyed in recognizing the CCP’s responsibility for it, and commit to distancing our economy from China’s after this is all over.

As this pandemic continues, Canadians should think clearly about who is responsible  for the illnesses, lockdowns, and lay-offs affecting our communities. We need to recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic is the fault of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and take steps after this crisis to extricate ourselves from our increasingly close relationship with the repressive, corrupt, and dishonest CCP.

The CCP’s misgovernance of China has been on full display in recent months. For years, they allowed for unregulated “wet markets” where live, wild animals are sold for human consumption, despite the fact that SARS, one of our last pandemics, originated in such a market. In Wuhan, the source of the pandemic, local CCP officials did not want to be the bearers of bad news to Beijing, so they downplayed the outbreak and tried to deal with it quietly, including by detaining whistleblower doctors.

It wasn’t until January 23, about a month after doctors began noticing a new viral pneumonia in their hospitals, that any quarantine measures were put into place in Wuhan. By then it was too late. Millions of people had travelled through Wuhan in preparation for the Chinese New Year, and the virus had begun spreading around the world. Having failed to contain the virus in the early days, the CCP put much of China on lockdown.

Many observers were impressed by the CCP’s ability to lockdown their country for public health. However, these measures would not have become necessary were it not for their earlier crackdowns on the free flow of information. Imagine if doctors in Wuhan had been empowered to share what they knew as soon as they knew it, and if officials had raised the alarm instead of arresting whistleblowers. The world would have been responding weeks earlier, allowing for a more targeted response. Even today, the CCP’s state media and diplomats are lying about the source of the pandemic, suggesting without evidence that the US Army released it to the world.

Despite knowing all of this, many in Canada and other parts of the West have been curiously reluctant to publicly hold the CCP responsible. I think there are three main reasons for this reluctance, which must be overcome to help us address the immediate crisis and reset our relationship with China after it is over.

The first reason is understandable, even laudable. We are concerned about racist attitudes towards Chinese and other Asian people in our communities. This is a fair concern, as there have been increasing cases of anti-Asian racism in the last few months. Of course, there is no connection between any ethnicity and this virus, and many Chinese people have worked heroically to fight this pandemic.

Public figures blaming China must be clear in their language: This is not the fault of the Chinese people, it is the fault of their oppressors in the CCP. But the CCP knows how sensitive Westerners are to accusations of racism, and they are calling those who blame the CCP racists in order to distract us from their misgovernance. This is hard to swallow from a regime that is imprisoning millions of ethnic minorities in internment camps. The CCP calls its critics racist to distract them, and we cannot let them get away with it.

The second reason we are reluctant to hold the CCP accountable is that we want to blame our domestic political opponents for their responses to this pandemic. Here in Canada, most politicians have avoided attacking each other in these times of crisis. But in the United States, the battle to pin the responsibility for this on the Trump Administration is well underway. For example, many have pointed to figures that show the new epicentre of the crisis is in the United States as a way of criticizing Trump.

However, this relies on accepting the CCP’s figures as accurate, which is unlikely given the CCP’s dishonesty. There is evidence that suggests China has had many more cases than the CCP will admit, and we shouldn’t forget that in our rush to criticize Trump. This is not to say that Trump has responded to this crisis effectively. He has not. But there is a world of difference between how badly he has responded, and the CCP’s basic responsibility for this global pandemic.

The final reason for our unwillingness to criticize the CCP is that the Canadian and Chinese economies have become quite integrated in recent years. In the last ten years, China has become our second biggest trading partner, and our bilateral trade has doubled to more than $100 billion annually. In this moment of crisis, we are learning that many of our medical devices, antibiotics, and drugs are imported from China.

Perhaps we are reluctant to criticize the CCP because we realize they have considerable leverage over us. This is a fair reason for political leaders to be discreet with their concerns, but ordinary Canadians should have no such qualms. We should be clear in recognizing and saying that the CCP is responsible for the COVID-19 global pandemic. Their leverage over our economy is dangerous, and it makes it harder for us to respond to a crisis like this one.

After this is over, our politicians should work to disentangle our economy from China’s. A good place to start would be reducing our reliance on Chinese supply chains for crucial goods like pharmaceuticals and medical devices. We could leverage the purchasing power of provincial healthcare systems, which are massive buyers of drugs and medication. We should require these systems to purchase drugs whose active ingredients are physically made in either Canada or an allied country.

At present, China controls about 80% of the world’s market in producing the active ingredients in pharmaceutical drugs. During a pandemic, this means that Canada does not have all the infrastructure we need to easily ramp up drug production. Those factories are located in China, and in a crisis, the CCP could restrict access to the drugs we need. China-based supply chains have already meant that much of the world is facing a shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves.

Production was difficult during the height of the Chinese epidemic, and the CCP government restricted exports of these products to ensure they had enough for their domestic market. However, that means we are left with the danger of not having enough supplies here in Canada as the epidemic approaches its peak. Going forward, we should create stronger domestic production markets for PPE and other medical supplies by mandating that our healthcare systems purchase a certain percentage of these supplies from domestic suppliers. This would likely be more expensive, but it’s a cost worth paying for our security and peace of mind. Such an approach would also have the knock-on benefit of bringing some manufacturing jobs back home, which would be welcomed in many of our communities.

Similarly, we should seek out export markets outside of China. In the last two years, the CCP devastated Canadian pork, beef, and canola producers by banning imports on false food safety charges. Politicians from all parties were reluctant to criticize the CCP because we knew they could retaliate against our farmers. But now that some of these restrictions have been lifted, let’s not simply go back to expanding our reliance on the Chinese market. Instead, let’s use the next few years to negotiate trade agreements with countries whose leaders tend to be less hostile to Canadian interests, including Nigeria, Brazil, and India.

Finally, we can work with our allies to counter the CCP’s growing economic power. There are dozens of other democracies, with a combined economy far larger than China’s, that find themselves in a similar position. Within NATO, we can advocate for a tough stance on any member state that participates in China’s Belt and Road initiative, or that risks Chinese spying by allowing CCP-controlled firms like Huawei the ability to participate in their 5G mobile network.

We can also work with the United States and European countries to demand fair and reciprocal access to Chinese markets, and seek to impose shared tariffs on Chinese goods if that access is not provided. The CCP beats the West when it is able to divide our traditional alliances. Canadian diplomats should now be working to strengthen them, and persuade our allies of the ever-clearer dangers of the CCP’s economic and political power.

The world has now watched the CCP lose control of the COVID-19 epidemic, and we are today living with the consequences of a pandemic unleashed by their misgovernance and repression. But Canada can emerge from this pandemic safer and stronger if Canadians are clear-eyed in recognizing the CCP’s responsibility for it, and commit to distancing our economy from China’s after this is all over. Let’s not go back to business as usual.