Relations between Canada and the Peoples Republic of China continue to deteriorate.

The slide began in late 2018 with Canada’s arrest of a senior executive of Huawei Technologies Ltd., Meng Wanzhou, on a U.S. extradition request. China reacted by arresting two Canadians on charges of “engaging in activities that endangered our (China’s) national security.”

China said the arrests were not related, though it has subsequently endorsed a prisoner swap – which would confirm a propensity for a tit-for-tat approach.

Recently, things have deteriorated further. Free trade talks were terminated by Canada and recently the Chinese Ambassador, Cong Peiwu, urged Canada to stop granting asylum to democracy advocates from Hong Kong. He characterized these individuals as “violent criminals” and went on to say that, if we continued to accept these refugees, it could jeopardize the “health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians who live in the former British colony. That comment alone should send a chill up the spines of most Canadians.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs then called in the Chinese ambassador to make clear to him, in no uncertain terms, that Canada will always stand up for human rights and the rights of Canadians around the world. The Chinese ambassador also went on to characterize a call from nearly 60 MPs and Senators to shelter more such refugees as “interference in China’s domestic affairs” which will embolden those “violent criminals.”

The Prime Minister, in marking the 50th anniversary of the opening of diplomatic relations between our two countries, accused China of practising “coercive diplomacy.” The ambassador took exception to those remarks saying, “There is no coercive diplomacy on the Chinese side.” He then reiterated that matters relating to Hong Kong and the Muslim population of Xinjiang province are internal issues and China will brook no interference from outside.

In the meantime, a group of Canadian business people in Beijing are pressing the Canadian government to accept the Chinese proposal for a prisoner swap. They have investments in China or want to greater access the domestic market there. Matters such as the lack of the rule of law, or rampant corruption, or the shabby treatment of human rights are of no concern to these people. Perhaps they also doubt that China would use such hostage taking to achieve their policy goals in future; if so, they may be overly-optimistic. 

What Canada needs to do is warn the 300,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong that we cannot guarantee their safety as we continue, as a matter of policy, to offer asylum to people the Chinese security forces view as “violent criminals” because they support democratic institutions in the former colony. Put more bluntly, it is time for these Canadian citizens to consider returning to Canada or finding some other domicile not under the control, real or defacto, of China. It is also time to begin warning Canadians wanting to visit China that they do so at their own risk. Finally, for those Canadians wanting to do business in China, they need to analyze objectively the risks, both business and personal. Virtually any other country in the far east offers less risk than China at this time — and many business opportunities.

The willingness of China to incarcerate anyone who they believe does not play according to their rules and practices puts all foreigners doing business in China at risk. The PM was right. The Chinese diplomacy is coercive that is why Canada should discourage trade with China.

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David Bond is a retired bank economist living in Kelowna. His column appears Tuesdays.