China recently moved to ban key Canadian agriproducts, including canola, soybeans, and pork. These moves against Canadian agriproducts are closely tied to the growing tensions between the two countries that began in December 2018 when Canadian authorities arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, following an extradition request from the United States.
Canadians need to reject the view that the arrest of Meng caused a historical turn in Canada’s otherwise highly positive relationship with China. To the contrary, Canada’s bilateral relationship has long operated under the shadow of Chinese bullying. Meng’s detention drew much-needed attention to the abnormality of our existing relationship with China. Were Canada to heed calls from retired politicians who have recommended returning Meng as a means to de-escalate the situation with Beijing, such action would represent a wholesale capitulation to China.
Canadians must also reject the view that China has all the economic power and Canada has none. Some Canadian observers have been quick to point out the disparity in power between Canada and China, commenting that “we need China – and China doesn’t need us” or that we were only “a flea sitting on China’s shoulder.” The suggestion is that there’s little the Canadian government can or should do in response to Chinese economic coercion.
This paper demonstrates that nothing is further from the truth. Canada has some significant advantages and China is taking some serious risks.