Certainly, Mr. Chair. Thank you.
I would like to thank the Special Committee for hearing my comments today on Canada-China relations and the current situation in Hong Kong.
I have been a lawyer since 1992, and I had the unique experience of living in Hong Kong for 10 years, from 2008 to 2017.
In my law practice, I specialize in economic immigration to Canada and, more specifically, the Quebec government's immigrant investor program. I have helped over 2,000 program applicants, mainly owners and officers of private companies established in mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The applicants have told me how they became wealthy in China and neighbouring countries. In under 30 years, China has become the world's second largest economic power, now rivalling North America and the European Union in a number of industrial sectors.
For all those years, I lived in Hong Kong, a democracy with 7.5 million inhabitants, never fearing the state. I also travelled in Taiwan, another Asian democracy with 23 million inhabitants, again, never fearing the state.
The people of Hong Kong and Taiwan are brave and determined. Like Canadians, they want to freely elect their government and continue to live in a transparent and predictable legal environment that upholds the values, freedoms and democratic safeguards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Basic Law of Hong Kong and the Constitution of Taiwan.
As several witnesses before me have pointed out, Canada has close ties with Hong Kong, and the current crisis there requires decisive, coordinated action and attention from the Canadian government.
When you live in Hong Kong, you live on the corrosive periphery of a harsh authoritarian regime and a system of government that runs completely counter to the democratic values that every Canadian lawyer upholds and defends.
When I would return home to Hong Kong after a trip to mainland China, I would breathe more deeply, as if relieved, gripped by the impression that, for a few days, I had found myself under a glass dome, in a social environment swarming with over-policed, indoctrinated, neutralized individuals, to whom the Chinese Communist Party allows only a limited spectrum of life reduced to an economic existence.
Recently, thanks to powerful algorithms and a growing sea of data, China has been subjecting individuals and businesses on its territory to a social credit rating system that takes into account such things as online browsing and comments.
Hong Kong's national security law of July 2020 extended that freedom-crushing glass dome over Hong Kong's democracy. The Communist Party of China is therefore starting to set up its ecosystem of repression and hyper-surveillance well before July 2047, in violation of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
That ecosystem has led to self-censorship, a protective reflex that, it seemed to me, has become deeply rooted in the inhabitants of mainland China, especially since denunciation is encouraged and even arranged.
A veritable Trojan horse in the Hong Kong legal system, the national security law is already leading the people of Hong Kong to self-censor. Individuals and organizations are closing their social media accounts in a hurry, removing the yellow square and the books liable to stir up anger. The legislation has therefore created a fear of the state that was not there before. In the end, the communist regime will confine the people of Hong Kong also to a limited spectrum of life reduced to an economic existence.
This summer, I came across the January-February 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs, entitled “Changing China”. Twelve years later, it actually made me smile. Hoping to change China means hoping to convince its ruling class to reform their political and economic governance and lead them to respect the rule of law, human rights and the market economy. That has turned out to be a little naive when we look at the facts over the past 20 years.
The gullible and reckless instincts of the Canadian government, businesses, research facilities and educational institutions have at times been appalling.
From my early years in China, I have been hoping to hear statements like the one French President Emmanuel Macron made in March 2019, declaring an end to the European Union's naive relations with China.
Western sympathy for and commitment to this noble and beautiful civilization have endured despite its repressive and predatory regime, have not turned into trust. Quite the opposite is true, and in the end, its peoples are being deprived of a more bountiful relationship.
Since 2014, President Xi Jinping has urged his people to pursue “the Chinese dream of a great national rejuvenation”. The legitimacy and sincerity of the call seem indisputable for the country long known as “the sick man of Asia”.
However, the current propaganda has led to almost fanatical and xenophobic nationalism in a society deprived of reliable and critical information. The propaganda also finds fertile ground in the national education that emphasizes the century of Chinese humiliation at the hands of foreign powers.
Henceforth, Canada must assume that the Chinese regime, in its pursuit of a characteristically Chinese socialism, is profoundly opposed to many Western values.
In September 2013, the U.S.-based magazine Mingjing published a document intended for the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party entitled “Communiqué on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere: A Notice from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China's General Office”. The document points out that the ideological struggle is a constant battle and warns against incorrect ideological tendencies, activities and positions, such as promoting Western constitutional democracy, universal values, civil society, neoliberalism and the West's view of the media.
It seems unrealistic to go on believing that China will change in the way we want it to change. In the 21st century, the greater risk is of the communist regime changing us in a way we do not want to change.
From this point, it is becoming critically important for Canada to ensure that our relations with China, which is now a major global player, do not lead us to relativism or to compromise the form and significance of our own standards, values and interests.
The regime in China has a holistic approach to its relations with Canada, where multiple, sometimes totally unrelated issues might be used as pressure tactics, even when they clearly flout international standards, such as detaining Kevin and Julia Garratt in 2014, and Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in 2018.
Every time we do not speak up or do nothing, each time we compromise our values, standards and interests, the regime becomes more comfortable with using intimidation. Canada must stop the Chinese regime from achieving its objective, that is, self-censorship and compliant behaviour.
Together with our allies, we need to develop and maintain an ever-stronger coordination of international, interdisciplinary and interdepartmental vigilance and action with respect to the Chinese regime's behaviour. This is particularly so in matters of human rights and interference in foreign political life, intimidation on foreign soil, the erosion of civil and political rights in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the theft of intellectual property, industrial espionage, artificial intelligence and commercial, scientific and educational partnerships that put Canada's autonomy, security or economic interests at risk.
That vigilance will help ensure that our foreign, trade and national security policies towards China increasingly reflect the realities and identities of 37 million Canadians, including the 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong.
Let us make sure that China does not change us.