It has been more than six-hundred days since China snatched our fellow countrymen, Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor. A few weeks ago, China charged these two Canadians with "espionage and subversion of the State" without any concrete evidence.
Ironically, just three years ago, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang exalted Sino-Canadian relations by calling it the "golden age" of bilateral engagement. So what went wrong?
The short answer is that China is a bully who has never taken Canada seriously under the leadership of Justin Trudeau. The fact is that Canada’s international image and influence have steadily declined for the past five years. I entered the Conservative Leadership race because I believe Canadians deserve better, both at home and on the world stage.
To reset our relationship with China, we first must understand why China feels it can bully us. The West and China’s economies are inextricably linked today. Canada alone has an almost $50 billion trade deficit with China. China is Canada’s second-largest agricultural export partner. Whenever China has said "jump," the Liberals' response has been "how high?"
Contrast that with the US, who has had no trade sanctions placed on them for banning Huawei, or had any citizens arrested despite being the ones to request that Canada arrest Meng Wanzhou.
Canada must demand fair play and respect from China. To do this we must use every tool at our disposal to reverse the failures of Trudeau’s timid approach.
Canada needs to take a different approach on trade with China. The top four imports from China to Canada are electronic equipment, machinery, furniture, and prefabricated buildings. As China is facing a rise in labour cost, it is a perfect opportunity for Canadian manufacturers to repatriate our supply chains back to Canada. This includes Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and pharmaceuticals.
We need to set clear boundaries on the conduct of Chinese international students and proxy organizations for the Chinese government. Canada is the top destination for Chinese international students. There are about 140,000 Chinese nationals with study permits in Canada. Per capita, Canada hosts eight times more Chinese international students than the US. Chinese International students brought in $16 billion in tuition fees for Canada in 2019. Canada welcomes Chinese International students who want to enrich their post-secondary learning and embrace our way of life.
However, in recent years, it’s become blatantly obvious that Chinese international student bodies have been used as vehicles by the Chinese government to undermine our liberal democracy. We see Chinese student organizations busing people to protest. Some of them physically and verbally harass peaceful protestors. This needs to be stopped. Canada must work with our intelligence services and local police force to make sure the fundamental rights of all Canadians are protected. We should start considering laying charges and deportation of Chinese students who physically harm peaceful protesters to check China's influence in Canada.
Some Chinese cultural organizations are also repurposed to serve as a proxy arm to the Chinese government, like the Confucius Institute. Back in April 2020, Global News broke the story on how some Chinese Canadian cultural and business organizations stockpiled PPE supplies on behalf of the Chinese government. Then these PPE supplies were sold back to Canada, the US and many other countries at 20 to 30 times the price. CSIS was aware of these activities yet the Trudeau government did nothing to stop these groups from shipping PPE back to China. If elected, under my leadership, I will foster closer collaboration between CSIS, the RCMP and the CBSA so these activities that hurt Canadian interests will be stopped promptly at the border.
China has become an aggressive global player and superpower. Some of its actions are a real threat not only to Canada but our Western allies. Canada once had some level of influence over Beijing. Today, that influence is gone. Canada’s laissez-faire approach to China is not working. It’s time for some constructive vigilance.
Dr. Leslyn Lewis is a Conservative Party Leadership candidate.