With the federal election now over, perhaps the first and most important issue facing Canada is how to manage relations with China. How can Canada respond to the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and death sentences for other Canadians, and retaliatory restrictions on Canadian agriculture exports, while looking after its interests in the Indo-Pacific?
As the new Canadian government weighs its options, McCuaig-Johnston argues that it ought to guide its thinking with four key objectives in mind:
- Achieve the return to Canada of all four Canadians as soon as possible;
- Reverse China’s unfair and inappropriate trade actions;
- Demonstrate to China that its disproportionate retaliation will create negative consequences for itself; and
- Refocus Canada's engagement in Asia.
While the first two objectives are priorities Ottawa seems to have handled well, McCuaig-Johnston suggests that there must be more consistency and clarity regarding Canada’s willingness to push back against China and shift our engagement toward like-minded allies in the region. Canada cannot continue to act as though things can return to “business as usual” with Beijing.
While the principal object for Canada ought to be securing the release of the captive Canadians, the commentary recommends taking a more serious view toward China regardless of the outcome of Beijing’s hostage diplomacy. McCuaig-Johnston suggests blocking Huawei from participation in 5G (as well as limiting research cooperation with the telecom giant), increasing scrutiny over the import of Chinese agricultural products, and seeking new partners in the Indo-Pacific region to reduce reliance on China.