Thank you very much, and thank you for this second opportunity to meet with you.
I'd like to begin by summarizing the points I had intended to make in my original appearance, updating them where necessary, and offering some ideas about first steps in getting to a smarter engagement of China.
It will soon be two years since our current China crisis began with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, followed by China's retaliatory seizure of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Since then, we've also seen death sentences imposed on Canadians Robert Schellenberg and Fan Wei in circumstances suggesting yet more retaliation. Today brings news that yet another Canadian, Mr. Xu Weihong, is facing the death penalty in China.
Beijing has also resorted to economic blackmail against some of our exports.
As these events have unfolded, we've also witnessed China's growing repression in many places. Dr. Lobsang Sangay has just described the grim situation in Tibet. In Hong Kong, since your last meeting, Beijing has now completed its demolition of the one country, two systems commitment it made to the people of the territory. China's steady assault on the faith, freedom and dignity of the Uighur people has transformed western Xinjiang into a prison camp, a place where China perfects and advertises the technology of the 21st century surveillance state.
Since your last meeting, we've learned that China is enforcing coercive birth control, including abortion, on Uighur women. Impatient with cultural genocide in Xinjiang, China now appears to be experimenting with the real thing.
China's repression resonates personally among Canadians from Hong Kong and among those of Tibetan and Uighur origins. They fear and feel the long arm of the Chinese state, which activates harassment and intimidation here in Canada via various proxy groups.
It was my hope that our government would use this period of crisis to rethink our relationship with China, to consider more clearly what China actually is, where it's going and how this is likely to affect us. However, old approaches die hard. It's not clear that the government has completely given up the fiction that China is our friend, nor has it consistently summoned the courage to speak and act with integrity. Powerfully placed Canadians continue to argue that if we appease China just one more time, all will be well. While it's reassuring that Global Affairs now acknowledges China's “long-term strategic challenge” to Canadian interests and values, which is surely the central lesson of this crisis, the same department somehow originally selected a Chinese company to provide the security technology that screens visitors to our embassies.
Canada suffered more than most from China's deadly lack of transparency at the outset of the SARS epidemic in 2003, and I remember that well from my work in the Asia branch of foreign affairs. It was, therefore, troubling to hear our health minister praise China's response to the current pandemic, even as reasonable concerns about this were emerging.
This isn't just an Ottawa problem. Dangerous myopia about China can also be found at the provincial and municipal levels. Last year, concerned citizens asked the City of Markham, Ontario, not to raise China's flag on its national day, citing, among other things, China's cruel treatment of our detained Canadians. However, the city ignored the protests and China's flag rose over Markham on October 1, just as it did over the prison camps of Xinjiang and Tibet, and over the three jails that hold the two Michaels and their long-incarcerated fellow citizen Huseyin Celil.
Something's wrong here, and it has to change. People need to remember that the ultimate objective of foreign policy is not to flatter, not to obscure inconvenient truths, but to advance and protect Canadian interests and values. I am not suggesting that we insult or provoke China. Rather, I'm proposing that we begin to defend our interests reasonably and realistically by doing two important things.
First, we need to take action, and quickly, against Chinese interference in Canada, starting with the implementation of something like Australia's foreign influence transparency scheme.
Second, we need to identify a few achievable objectives to reduce our vulnerability and dependence. These could include working with allies to establish new supply chains in vulnerable sectors, launching trade diversification efforts for exports targeted by China, and working with allies on measures to frustrate China’s efforts, successful so far, to take on countries one by one, to isolate and dominate.
It goes without saying that this long-overdue course correction must be shared with Canadians, who would be enormously reassured. It would also provide a needed sense of direction to the public service and send an encouraging message to our allies.
These are reasonable first steps, but only first steps. Getting to a relationship with China that protects our interests and values will not be cost-free or easy, but it’s a task we must face up to, because it’s ultimately about making our way as a truly independent country in a changing world.
Thank you. I'd be happy to take questions, Mr. Chair.