Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, presented on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, be concurred in.
I will be sharing my time with the member for Flamborough—Glanbrook.
It is critically important that we have this opportunity to discuss the horrific developments taking place in Hong Kong as we speak. However, before I get into the substance of my remarks, I would like to address a few words directly to the Chinese-Canadian community.
May is Asian Heritage Month, an opportunity to celebrate the rich contributions of Canadians of Asian origin. During this pandemic, we have seen how Asian community organizations and indeed a broad range of cultural organizations have stepped up to support people within and outside their communities. I want to particularly thank Friends of Hong Kong Edmonton for delivering a large quantity of masks to my constituency.
Asian Canadians were among the first to call for a stronger response to this pandemic. We should have listened. In the midst of important and necessary conversations about holding the Chinese government and specifically the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, accountable for this global outbreak, some Asian Canadians are feeling pressure associated with increasing racism and even hate crimes. Some have tried to use this pandemic as an excuse to justify anti-Asian racism. Others have tried to use this racism as an excuse to demand that we dial back criticism of the CCP. Extremists on both sides, xenophobes on the one hand and CCP apologists on the other, seek to falsely conflate the oppressive political structures in China with Chinese people, culture and values. These two seemingly opposite evils, xenophobia and CCP support, can have a common intellectual root: the effort to associate Chinese people, culture and values with the political system of their oppressors.
Unfortunately, Dominic Barton, the Prime Minister's hand-picked ambassador to China, gave credence to this false conflation when he told the special committee on Canada-China Relations, “They place an importance on the values of collectivism and harmony, owing to a Confucian heritage. Understanding the extent to which China values unity and the needs of society at large, rather than freedom of individual choice...we just have to understand that.”
Ambassador Barton is wrong. He is wrong about Confucius, wrong about China and wrong about Chinese people. As an alternative to this distorted frame, we must advance a decoupling of these ideas, a recognition that Marxism's dehumanizing materialism is deeply alien to China's rich and ancient traditions of personal responsibility, reverence for beauty, continuity with the past and respect for the non-material aspects of life.
It is no contradiction, and in fact it is quite a natural combination, to love China and hate communism. Chinese people desire freedom at least as much as the rest of us. Former British prime minister Tony Blair said it best when he said, “Anywhere, anytime ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same: freedom, not tyranny; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the secret police.” We know in the particular case of the Chinese people that this is true, not just through general reasoning or abstract philosophy, but through the direct observation of events, including events in Hong Kong.
Last week, the member for Steveston—Richmond East and I co-hosted a webinar with leading figures in Hong Kong's democracy movement, under the title Why Hong Kong Matters. That is a good question for us to consider: What exactly is the particular importance of Hong Kong?
During the webinar, we discussed Hong Kong's commercial significance, both to China and to the rest of the world, and how efforts by the CCP to undermine its unique legal status will damage China's economy. We discussed how the new law imposed by the CPP violates China's international commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. We discussed our obligations to defend human rights and our particular obligations toward the many Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong.
However, all these critical points undersell the most important answer to the question. Why does Hong Kong matter? It matters because Hong Kong provides the key to the whole world in terms of the challenges and conflicts that now confront us in the 21st century. It is because we have a competition between two irreconcilable political systems, between, on the one hand, the freest societies in human history, and on the other hand, the most serious attempt in human history to turn George Orwell's 1984 technology-enabled dystopia into reality. The 21st century will provide the world with an emerging choice between these two options, with both seeing themselves as the culmination of our social and technological evolution.
Why does Hong Kong hold the key?
Hong Kongers have given so much to defend their freedoms, not only because those freedoms were promised in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, but also because these freedoms accord deeply with China's own history, culture and values. Hong Kong is no less Chinese than the mainland, no less informed by China's Confucian heritage, yet its people love their freedom with an electrifying and inspiring passion. Just like the brave protesters killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre, just like the people of Taiwan, just like the members of China's rapidly growing faith communities, these are Chinese women and men who love and defend their freedom.
When extremists on both sides of the spectrum try to conflate China with the darkness of communism, the reality of Hong Kong and its defence of its freedom shines its beacon of light to prove them wrong.
The CCP is trying to use this pandemic, a pandemic of its own making, to snuff out Hong Kong's light and to suppress this great city, and to hide the desire of Hongkongers, and of all Chinese people, to be free. The CCP understands why Hong Kong matters and so must we.
Today, we are considering a motion of the special committee on Canada-China relations, moved by the member for New Brunswick Southwest, objecting to the arrest of pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong. The shocking arbitrary arrest of heroes of freedom and democracy appears now to have marked the beginning of a coordinated plan to end the effective meaning of the “one country, two systems” concept and replace it with direct rule from Beijing in the name of so-called national security.
Hong Kong's political system, though characterized by relative economic and personal freedom, is not a proper democracy. The presence in its legislature of representatives of so-called functional constituencies distorts results and limits popular control of the territory's government. These problems have led to growing calls for proper universal suffrage democracy, calls which I strongly support but which Liberal ministers in Canada have failed to support.
Hong Kong's undemocratic government has attempted to advance various security-related laws which would dramatically undermine Hong Kong's freedoms. These attempts have always been met by strong opposition. The latest protest movement, sparked by a proposed extradition law, expanded into a strong and sustained call for real democracy. In the midst of these protests, the Hong Kong government withdrew the extradition bill and pro-democracy parties won a historic victory in local elections.
In the face of opposition in the territory to their draconian plans, the government in Beijing now intends to eliminate even the pretense of respecting local decision-making by putting in place new sweeping security measures without even consulting Hong Kong's compromised institutions. These new imposed from Beijing measures contain no limitations on the ability of the CCP to invoke national security as an excuse to pursue whatever arbitrary measures it wants. This new law imposes a de facto single system on the whole of China decisively ending Hong Kong's freedom.
A recent article in Chinese state media openly declares that Jimmy Lai could be prosecuted for pro-democracy tweets under this new security law. It is making up crimes in order to prosecute those who it has already arrested. These measures are bad for China, bad for its economy and bad for its international reputation. However, the CCP has always shown that it is willing to put its desire for control ahead of the national interest and ahead of the people of China.
The CCP believes that any case in which Chinese people live in freedom is a threat to its system's survival because freedom is more contagious than any virus. When people have it, they do not want to give it up. When they see others have it, they want to get it themselves. Hong Kong reminds us that China, in all its beauty and complexity, is made up of women and men who desire and who deserve freedom, who stood in front of tanks because they did not want to live in a basic dictatorship.
The Canadian government in response to these events thus far has lacked the strength and moral clarity that is needed. Our foreign affairs minister chose to take a wait-and-see approach, while the Prime Minister simply called for de-escalation of tensions and genuine dialogue. It is disgraceful that we have such a mealy-mouthed response from the government on a clear-cut moral issue, which also involves the violation of international law. One wonders if after reading about the American civil rights movement, the Prime Minister reflected that what was really needed was just de-escalation of tensions.
There is no honour in trying to play the disinterested and neutral broker between the oppressor and the oppressed. There is only honour in championing the cause of the oppressed and working to advance the cause of justice.
That is what Canada did after Putin's invasion of Ukraine. We drove an international consensus which isolated the Kremlin, punished it for its actions and supported the Ukrainian people. We used a combination of economic and political measures to support victims of violence and to deter future aggression. A government with a principled foreign policy would be doing the same today.
In the last five years, we have seen a rapid slide away from principled foreign policy leadership to a policy of accommodation and appeasement that betrays our fundamental values and prioritizes the interests of a few well-connected companies and UN Security Council politics over questions of human rights and fundamental justice.
In the absence of government leadership, we have and we must continue to use the tools of the minority Parliament to compel the government to do better. We need to resume meetings of the special committee on Canada-China relations as soon as possible. The government opposed the creation of that committee, but all opposition parties stood together to advance what was right. In this perilous time for Hong Kong, and for the whole world, we must do so again.