Public Policy Forum
Dec 19, 2017 · 32 min read

Meeting Minutes, September 14, 2017, Ottawa

Note: // indicates a new speaker

Acknowledgment: The minutes below reflect a round table exchange between government officials, public policy experts, academics and private sector representatives. As such, they highlight risks that were discussed by a variety of participants in the context of discussing the possibility of further engagement between Canada and China and not anyone’s views in particular.

Topic 1: National Security

// Over the last three years, there have been active conversations by senior government officials that we can no longer treat the two aspects of trade and security separately, and we can’t make a trade-off between them. We need to marry our strategic, economic and investment interests. We need to look at the China puzzle and take forward the good ideas that are both economically viable and in the interest of Canadians.

Geo-economics

Looking at geo-economics, experts noted that there is concern about China using economic power to leverage interests. Media reports indicate that it is a serious concern in Australia and that some small Asian states have been the subject of economic pressures.

It is clear that the rise of China is a defining feature of the 21st century — it has had incredible economic growth. Canada is seeing the impact on the economic front, but there are national security issues linked with doing more business with China. Will China conform to norms of practice, will it be more assertive, can we separate this from security issues? The relationship with the US and our other allies is critical too.

The ambivalence of Canadians

Looking at the polls, Canadians are ambivalent — they understand the importance of China, and they see opportunities there but they also want to know more before they support greater engagement. The clash of values on national security and human rights fuel doubts for Canadians. Successive Governments have been keenly aware of the ambivalence — some feel this ambivalence has delayed our chance to seize on opportunities. Others say we can learn from states that moved early, such as Australia and the UK. China has a clear sense of its priorities and is very deliberate in its action. There are numerous media articles in the US, Australia, UK and the rest of Europe, highlighting that these countries are all doing a tightening of the security reviews for investment from China. This illustrates that everyone faces the same challenges and balancing act.

In many countries, there is also a debate around natural resources and the impact of Chinese investment on access to real estate. In Australia, this debate even extends to the acquisition of land, particularly farm land, an issue of less concern in Canada because of our strong provincial/territorial regimes.

We need to be mindful of concerns but at the same time, China can be an important partner if we want to make progress on regional security issues, such as North Korea.

China seeking geo-political gains

Observers see China trying to make geo-political gains. There is concern about the South China Sea, and how China is using its economic power to coerce small Asian states and to restrain the reactions of developed countries. We are watching with interest the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative.

National security review of investments

The discussion noted that China has a geo-political agenda and an increasing economic interest in intelligence, may it be human (traditional spies), or through technological means (signal intelligence, cyber espionage, etc). China’s SOEs pursue a marriage of interests. Technical advances such as those in cyber espionage make intelligence gathering less labor intensive and more difficult to detect or attribute. The scale of opportunities offered by cyber espionage has grown.

Some of our key economic sectors, such as aerospace and others, have done a relatively good job in protecting IP and are aware of the risks. Large corporations have dedicated strategies and resources to protect against emerging trends like cyber espionage. There is a need to better equip our SMEs, who may not have the same awareness and resources.

Experts noted that , in the past, China relied on a ‘dredging’ approach to support their geo-political interests. They are now a lot more strategic in targeting key interests especially with respect to aerospace, agricultural IP and know-how and high-tech. Like Australia, we have seen China move along the supply chain. China has transitioned from seeking natural resources to advanced technology. Another example is in the acquisition of small firms: concerns have emerged that China may be prepared to outbid reasonable market price offers by others to acquire small firms in areas of strategic interest. With respect to foreign investment, it is not necessarily the magnitude of investment that is critical. Some large SOEs from China have made very small investments in important tech companies, so the Canadian interest cannot be defined solely by the scale of the investment. Also it can’t be limited to SOEs — some private corporations are also very linked to the Chinese government and some SOEs do not necessarily pose a risk.

Espionage and foreign interference

A few years ago China would not even discuss the subject of industrial espionage. But following the G20 statement, China is willing to enter into commitments with states that they will not do espionage on each other. China and Canada reached such an understanding during their June 2017 Second Round of National Security and Rule of Law Dialogue. Other countries, who reached such agreements before, have noted that the result is that the volume has come down, and you have the added advantage of a commitment to refer to if an incident surfaces. While the Chinese see advantages from being able to adhere to international norms that encourage better behaviors, does that mean that they will really change behaviours?

There is a fundamental difference between foreign influence and foreign interference. The latter is an attempt by a state to advance its interests by covertly undermining legitimate rules and processes. All countries, including Canada, engage in advocacy with foreign governments or interests, through diplomatic engagement or other means.

There are also security threats where China can be an important partner; for example, China could be an important partner in addressing security threats related to drugs, cyber-crime and terrorism.

Mitigating risks and developing red lines

The discussion noted that we need to know the risks as well as the opportunities for free trade. Our trade negotiators need to be well-informed about the risks and about our own boundaries in order to reach an agreement that increases the flow of investment and trade without compromising our strategic interests or those of our key allies. China exercises far more control on foreign investment in their own areas of strategic interests than most of its western trading partners.

We should also look at the power of alliance. Like other major powers, China loves the bilateral track. A strong alliance has a higher probability of promoting good behaviors. We need to avoid the race to the lowest common denominator.

A few years ago, media reported the concerns expressed by President Obama that some of its G7 partners had too quickly embraced the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), reducing the opportunity for the select group to encourage the appropriate norms, governance structures, etc.

With regards to the Canadian toolkit, the discussion highlighted that in areas like export controls and controlled goods’ programs, we seem to have mature systems in place, including relatively good consultation mechanisms with our allies like the United States. By contrast, the national security review provisions of the Investment Canada Act are young and haven’t yet reached maturity. The strict timelines of the NS review mechanism of the ICA require an accelerated process in terms of both consultations with allies and assessment. Finally, all of these various tools have been developed as distinct legislative and regulatory frameworks that operate in siloes to deal with discrete concerns of the past. Recent experience has demonstrated the need for a better coordinated approach to deal with a new reality. The discussion noted that reforms that can bring more certainty up front would be welcome by the private sector.

Participants agree that we need to do a better job on understanding the link between SOEs and the Chinese Government so we can know exactly what the risks are and whether these can be mitigated. We need to avoid the oversimplification of it being simply a SOE versus a private sector firm from China. The Chinese ecosystem is not that simple.

We also need to improve the information sharing with the private sector in order to improve its awareness and resilience. Some of the private sector interventions stressed that Canadian governmental agencies, while protecting their intelligence sources, could provide more information to allow them to better appreciate, prevent or mitigate risks.

Our knowledge of, and engagement with, China

It is also extremely important to promote Chinese knowledge in Canada so we can engage with open eyes, deal with risk and have Canadians that are much more adept at dealing with China. Our complacency of easy access to the US works to our disadvantage and people are less driven to seek out China knowledge.

Engagement with China matters to Canada — and it requires a broad level of engagement on multiple fronts. The September 2016 visit of the Canadian Prime Minister to China and the return visit of the Chinese Premier launched several channels such as an annual Leaders’ dialogue and a High Level Economic Dialogue between a Chinese Vice-Premier and the Canadian Ministers of Finance and International Trade.

It also included the launch of an annual National Security and Rule of Law Dialogue (NSRLD), led by the two countries’ National Security Advisor equivalents, a model in place with other countries and the UK. Initial rounds of the NSRLD have led to fruitful engagement on a variety of subjects. Progress was noted in areas like law enforcement cooperation with the signature of a number of MOUs. China’s action to enhance regulations on fentanyl precursors and its agreement to cooperate with the RCMP on drug smuggling operations, particularly fentanyl and carfentanil are positive signs. The first two rounds of the forum also allowed frank and honest conversations on human rights and rule of law, counterterrorism, consular cases and the commitment of not conducting industrial espionage referred above. In the context of that dialogue, China has asked Canada to explore the negotiation of an extradition treaty. Canada has stressed that the legal standards for extradition in Canada are extremely high and that China would need to show progress in a number of rule of law areas before such initiatives could be considered. Experts noted that existing UN instruments would currently allow China to seek extradition in some circumstances but that China has never made any applications. These cases would also be subject to the same high Canadian legal standards.

China is an important but challenging partner. Our values, economics and politics are different and there are real risks. However, we cannot ignore Chinese growth. Canada is too small and too open to retreat. We must engage to address national security concerns. We should try and build sound systems around investment and exports screening that allow the promotion of investment and trade and the protection of our national security interests . We also need to make sure that Canadian companies have access to diversified sources of capital to scale. If we don’t provide the funds, they will look to China. We also need to be deliberate in our actions and at times patient. We can learn from the experiences and lessons of countries who moved sooner, like Australia. We need to know our strategic interests and our red lines.

An FTA and risks

// The risks of doing business with China exist right now. Do those risks get worse with a FTA, or are they the same? We also can’t generalize about risks to the Canadian economy — it is not homogenous. For example, the IP risks for fish, natural resources, tourism and services are low. Risk management needs differentiation too.

// We can try to mitigate risks. What we need to be careful about — and where media reports show that some countries, like Australia, made mistakes — is the investment chapter. China doesn’t allow investment in various sectors. We need to be clear on our own red lines; we need to be mindful of our strategic interests. Any FTA cannot impede our ability to protect our interests or the interests of our key allies when it comes to the ability to apply a national security screen on investments. This also includes our ability to protect against illicit IP acquisition that allows China to leap frog research and development but then repatriate know-how at the expense of Canadian firms and jobs. A few years ago, Chinese spies were arrested going to fields in the US states to collect advanced farming seeds. These are the type of activities that violate fair-trade practices. But we are not going to resolve it on our own — we, and other allies, need to drive them towards compliance with fair trade rules.

// We should learn from Australia — they’ve been at it for two generations. While we shouldn’t minimize the threat, the context is important too. There is a unique historical context that we are not integrating. Remember the US obsession with Japan’s unfair trade practices in the 1980s?

How do we integrate China into the world order? They are not going away, so we need to learn to live with them. China’s history — their “100 years of humiliation” — drives their aggressiveness and historical factors are very important to them. For some of China’s actions that we are critical of, we can point to Americans and other major countries doing this too. Let’s try and balance our criticism of China and integrate the context, not only at the policy level but practically going forward.

// Agree that we need to engage more. Is this situation unique to China? No. We have tough trade negotiations with US. Can the US-Japan trade war teach us something here? Can we drive China to international norms? We try to use multilateral trade so we can have norms to manage relations. Norms are helpful if there are adequate mechanisms to drive compliance.

First Nations and China

// Some First Nations have a solid China strategy — it was one of the first things that were done. First Nations have been engaged with Chinese SOEs, but after the Canadian determinations on Petronas and CNOOC-Nexen, there have been delays. Some First Nation communities are well informed and adept at engaging China. We should share knowledge.

Chinese government operations in Canada

// Some participants raised concerns with some activities of the Chinese Government inside Canada, particularly around monitoring and interfering with dissident views even in the context of the political process. The subject of political interference has attracted a lot of attention recently in Australia. There is also a project in Singapore looking at the changing Chinese techniques for interacting with Chinese people who are based in Singapore.

// Recent actions by foreign actors in a number of democratic elections has made all democratic governments alert to the added risk of foreign cyber interference. The discussion noted that none of these media reported foreign cyber interference incidents have involved China. In Canada, the Prime Minister asked the Minister of Democratic Institutions to engage the Communications Security Establishment to conduct a review for such foreign cyber interference risks for the elections in Canada. A report was released a few months ago. Raising Canadian awareness on the risks of foreign interference is a key element of any mitigation strategy.

Media reports have also highlighted concerns in some universities with the risk that the presence of Confucius Centres right on campus raises questions about whether it is being used to monitor activities and individuals and could also affect academic independence. The best way to tackle some of these things is to offer more ‘China smart’ programs and promote more awareness — with similar initiatives with diaspora. Participants noted that efforts to try and influence diaspora in Canada seem to have a very limited impact.

China and universities

// The comparison with Japan is interesting. China is a unique challenge in that it is looking both up and down the value chain. Engagement with China is important and needs to be for the long term. In terms of Chinese language, there is a waiting list three times longer than what can be provided to learn Chinese languages at the University of Toronto. There is clearly a demand for this but on the supply side we don’t have the resources. In the US, there is the ‘100,000 Strong[1]’ campaign — that is a conversation we haven’t had in Canada.

In terms of engagement, the line between universities and industry is increasingly blurred. Universities are looking to create partnerships with firms from China. This may be at the pre-IP stage, but then it turns into IP as the university creates knowledge. Perhaps the universities don’t even know how to have these conversations about downstream risks, let alone about security.

There are over 10,000 students from China at the University of Toronto. There is some concern about this in the media, including rumors of the Chinese Consulate having control over students, reporting on fellow students etc. This isn’t industrial espionage but it is affecting education and the free flow of knowledge.

// We have to define better our red lines — this is the only thing that China understands. We need to be clear when we speak to them about our red lines. Canadians need to be better informed on the whole spectrum of cyber risks to improve their ability to prevent, mitigate and recover.

The earlier lack of interest in learning Mandarin is changing now among young people. That more and more young people have had some involvement with China is encouraging for the future.

// Seneca College has been welcoming Chinese students since 1978 and it has a large number of Chinese students today; international students amount to about a $3 billion benefit for Canada. Many of the students want to stay in Canada, so it is also important for our immigration and a big part of our people-to-people links.

// For the most part, the fact of these students coming to Canada is very much a success. Where it becomes a concern, is if their presence is used in a clandestine way to influence.

China and the diaspora

// The Chinese respect the fact that you are protecting your interests and being tough.

With respect to the diaspora, these are tough issues and participants noted the need to find a way to have these sensitive conversations. China needs to be more attentive to it as well and to understand what we would consider to be crossing the line.

In recent years, there have been media reports suggesting that Chinese law enforcement officials have come to Canada to track down in a covert way those accused of corruption. Canadian officials have sent clear messages that law enforcement assistance must be conducted through the appropriate diplomatic and law enforcement channels.

One participant , who attends regularly many activities of Chinese diaspora in Montreal, noted that there are concerns within the community about some of their activities. For the Chinese government the view is “once Chinese, always Chinese”. While we need to be delicate, this is something we have to be concerned about too.

// There is an important election coming up in China, and it hasn’t been mentioned yet. China has an ability to clearly map out its priorities — the 13th 5-year plan, includes clearly setting out its sectoral priorities and we should be aware of it. With respect to discussions on an enhanced economic relationship, it is critical that the infrastructure of leaders’ dialogue, financial ministers dialogue etc. be integrated into it. The infrastructure at the political level needs strong technical support to match the formality of the Chinese system.

// We need to look at the domestic Chinese Canadian community and how we can best connect with them — they provide a unique potential to deal with some of these issues. It is a community that is smart, young and interested in adapting to circumstances. There has been a lot of discussion about these people being victims of strategies from mainland China, but our diminished consciousness of the dynamics of our minority communities plus the seriousness of what is done from mainland China causes us not to focus on leveraging the assets we have — we should engage with Chinese Canadians to promote the benefits of a closer relationship with China.

// Some participants noted that candidates with strong reservations on China did very well in the last BC election, illustrating that if alleged efforts are true, they had little impact. Other countries worry about the risk from Chinese dual nationals, whose allegiance may be more to mainland China. We can do better at using the Chinese diaspora in Canada.

// Chinese people in Canada can see the potential of China, and they see this as an opportunity to do something for their chosen country of Canada. But many Chinese Canadians feel confused about the position they have to play — they have a chance to bridge differences, to connect and build trust with China. But should they attend Chinese National Day events on October 1? We should help Chinese Canadians get involved in our communities. Remarks that we should be very careful with elected people of Chinese descent are very disappointing and unwarranted in a country like Canada built on the strength of its diversity.

China and the blue economy

// The environment, climate change, the Arctic, fisheries, the blue economy haven’t been mentioned, but China looks at these as either ecological security, environmental safety or ecological civilization issues and they have to take them seriously. There are some 2,000 Chinese vessels on the high seas, but they are not well supervised in terms of sustainability issues. China now says that its smog problems are related to an air mass over the Arctic, to global warming — it gives them an opening to get into everything. If there is an FTA, we need to look at what kind of environmental considerations go into that, and it needs more highlighting in our relationship with China. China is putting in science and technology investments with wind and solar power. We are coming in on the trade side with clean technologies but in a minor way. Whether we call it environmental development, green technologies or green urbanization, this is an advantage that Canada might have in the future. How do we link ecological/environmental security with national security for Canada to put on table?

// There is a lot of interest now in blue economy/environmental aspects and China can become an important partner and player in this area.

China and intellectual property

// If industrial espionage is going to go on anyway, why not have a FTA? But there are concerns about the forced technology transfers eroding the promise of a FTA — if China already has the blueprints, why do they need a FTA with Canada? There is a concern that we don’t properly account for what is happening today in industrial espionage in our assessment of whether a FTA is worth it.

// With respect to IP, we have to find a way to protect ourselves, to promote it and find ways to make Canadians more aware of the risks so that they can decide whether to share IP or not. We need to make our companies smarter. Some countries like Australia have had problems; they made concessions on investment without understanding the consequences.

// We need a more informed, balanced understanding of the issues. One participant noted the myth that a Canadian company who had entered into a joint venture with Chinese SOEs had seen its IP stolen and was now undercut in most contracts when the reality is that the Canadian firm continues to win contracts in China but loses in foreign ones. The suggestion was that the issue may be more a trade practice matter than IP theft. This illustrates how facts may be very different to what some observers may perceive and report to the media. Media reports tend to colour discussion.

With respect to natural resources, a few years ago we had a public debate over oil when, in today’s world, rare earths may be more of a critical asset to new technologies. China is running out of it and, if Canadian projects cannot secure financing from other sources, they may need to go to China to get capital.

Update: Polling

Presentation by Dr Paul Evans, Professor, Institute of Asian Research and Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia

Top lines from the latest poll on ‘Canadian Public Attitudes on China and Canada-China Relations’:

  • 78% strongly or moderately support Canada entering into a FTA — this is significantly higher than the 60% the Asia Pacific Foundation found in their survey 6 months ago.
  • On an extradition treaty with China — a lot of undecided (38%), but 50% support an extradition treaty.
  • There is deep uncertainty about the US leadership going forward. The US is no longer in Canadian minds as the great anchor. Would people support the US in a conflict with China? — there is considerable movement in Canadian minds on this.
  • There were several surprises in the results — the Canadian public was more nuanced and informed than we expected. For example, on human rights in China — it is not just one simple category: quite nuanced responses in relation to separate political rights. People are smarter than the media suggests.
  • Priorities in the relationship with China — first is economic, second is the environment/climate change, third is creating global partnerships. Human rights are a distant fourth or fifth.
  • Strong support in a variety of questions for partnership possibilities with China — people-to-people activities, universities, Chinese setting up campuses in Canada etc. In general terms, the public is interested in engaging in deeper relations with China.
  • There is a rising concern about national security.

Discussion following presentation

// The Trump factor is in play here with these results. There is a powerful attraction for Canadians around the economy plus the environment.

// Is there a significant regional variation here?

// We don’t know yet if there is a regional variation. The survey was only conducted in English. The Asia Pacific Foundation have found big variations in regions before.

// If you were a Trump official and about to see Canada embrace China, you would be asking: you want to preserve an open door to the US, but you will be creating a back door for China. The triangular relations between Canada, China and the US are interesting — would people embrace China if it had a cost to the US relationship?

// That trade-off question is the wrong question — Canadians do not see that they have an option except to pursue China. This distrust of the US is not just as a market but as a rule generator too. It is plausible that Canadians have a sense that something big is changing. More than two-thirds of Canadians say that China will be the largest economy in the next 10 years.

// We want to do more with China but we shouldn’t do it at the expense of the US — we need a balance.

// It is fairly clear from this and other polls that the human rights issue is not top of mind for most Canadians. In this regard, there is a disjunction between the political leadership and academics on the one hand, and the views of the general public on the other.

Topic 2: Human Rights

Presentation by representative of the Canada Tibet Committee, and Amnesty International

The Canada Tibet Committee and Amnesty International are both members of the Canadian Coalition of Human Rights Organizations in China, which is an organization that engages regularly with the Canadian government.

Why are human rights an important tool for decision-making and policy-making? Human rights are not aspirational goals or discretionary policies — they are international law and represent an international consensus. There are several legal agreements that underwrite human rights protections, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Key human rights principles are:

  • Universality — human rights apply to everyone. No exceptions.
  • Inter-relatedness — they have an impact on one another. For example, if you violate one right it might impact another
  • Interdependent — the realization of one right may depend on the realization of another one

State obligations with respect to human rights are:

  • Respect — this is essentially ‘to do no harm’
  • Protect — ensure that third parties do not impede the enjoyment of human rights
  • Fulfil — facilitate the enjoyment of human rights and provide basic needs

There are serious human rights issues in China — with the emphasis on serious. This has been a long standing reality. Now is a particularly worrying and fraught time in human rights in China. There is endless debate about whether it’s getting better or worse but it is a very real and pressing concern.

The past 20+ years have been marked by how the international community has responded to this reality — they have been taking softer approaches to dealing with China, less publicly and less openly critical. The official reason being that many governments feel that is a more effective way of dealing with China around these issues. The reality though is that the international community, including Canada, has been more and more interested in an economic and trade agenda with China. Pushing too hard on the human rights front makes it awkward on the business front. It is often argued that the less direct approach works best because China is more likely to respond to approaches that are about dialogue, rather than condemnation. There has also been a view that focusing on the trade and business relationship will also be good for human rights — that this will in turn lead to greater rule of law, more opportunities for engagement, dialogue etc. This focus on a business relationship means China will likely be more sensitive around its international standing and reputation.

But has a trade driven approach worked? There has been an explosion in the middle class and greater prosperity for millions — but not all. The human rights community in the last few years has been losing ground on many fronts — there is a deterioration going on, a greater defiance of the Chinese Government. There is a cavalier attitude towards international views and attempts to persuade.

Why does this matter?

  • Because of the situation on the ground. These human rights concerns are very real, and sometimes deadly, for millions of people.
  • It matters globally — China’s global standing is very important, and we want to be sure that China can be a global voice for human rights.

China has ratified five of the seven core human rights treaties, but domestic application is weak or non-existent. Chinese co-operation with key human rights bodies is also lacking.

Key areas of concern:

  • Freedom of expression — this is a huge and growing problem.
  • Political prisoners/torture/death penalty — there has not been a year without many cases of concern regarding political prisoners. Torture is endemic. It is very difficult to get to the truth on the numbers subjected to the death penalty but China executes more people than the whole of the rest of the world combined.
  • Minority rights — in particular for Tibetans, Mongolians
  • Religious freedom — this is non-existent
  • Access to land — including the forced removal from land
  • Access to information/privacy/surveillance — this is a growing global human rights concern everywhere. China has led the way on this front; it is difficult to communicate in the digital space on human rights issues
  • Extraterritorial dimension — not just about what happens in mainland China
  • Hong Kong — troubling situation

Highlight three cases in particular:

  • Liu Xiaobao — Nobel peace prize winner, died in custody, denied medical treatment.
  • Tenzin Delek Rinpoche — died in custody, evidence of torture.
  • Huseyin Celil — Canadian citizen, been in prison since 2006, given a life sentence, later reduced to an unknown number of years.

In December, Canada issued new guidelines for working with human rights defenders. A lot of cases of concern about prisoners of conscience fall into the category of human rights defenders.

Access to justice is taking a retrograde step in China. Restrictive laws were adopted in 2016, a toxic combination of cyber security law, management of foreign NGOs law and counter-terrorism law. Human rights lawyers are routinely detained, in 2015 this was particularly troubling. This group of brave and beleaguered people is growing but if they face increased difficulties then this is bad news across all human rights fronts.

The case of Larung Gar is about being denied freedom of religion. This is the largest Buddhist study centre in Tibet (and in the world). The residents were Chinese, Tibetan and foreigners. Following the official order to reduce it by half before September 2017 there were forced evictions and demolitions. People were subjected to re-education. Now something similar is happening in a neighboring area. In order to make this area into a tourism destination, China had to breach freedom of religion of the Tibetan people. Canadian officials have repeatedly requested access to Tibet, but it is denied. This is the case even when the purpose is to monitor Canadian funded projects.

We are also concerned about undocumented Tibetans in Nepal — they have no identity documents and can’t leave Nepal. Some Western governments have accepted these people but then Nepal has denied them exit visas.

In terms of national security implications, there is on-going harassment, intimidation and threats of people in Canada working on human rights that are clearly linked back to the Chinese government. This is something that is faced right across Canada. It is very troubling and has been going on for years across a range of communities. It is very hard to do anything about it, but it has an unbelievably strong ‘chill factor’ — it is causing activists to stop doing what they want to do. People are not able to exercise their rights in Canada.

There is a wide range of tactics used against Canadian human rights defenders, including online surveillance, threatening phone calls, monitoring, denial of visas to return to China to see family, threats made against family members in China and interference with Canadian institutions and media.

Turning to the Canada-China FTA, the position of the Canadian Coalition of Human Rights Organizations in China is that we are not against a FTA if:

  • it respects human rights and does not undermine or exacerbate problems — a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) is required before starting formal negotiations; and
  • the negotiations should be used as an opportunity to push for human rights outcomes e.g., to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

The government vision of ‘progressive trade’ must include attention to human rights. A HRIA is essential. If there is no HRIA, then peoples’ views will harden and those who did support the FTA will not do so anymore.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a process where each UN member is required to undergo a review of its human rights performance every five years. China’s will take place in fall 2018; the last mid-term assessment found China had done very poorly on implementing the recommendations from its last UPR.

Key recommendations:

  • The Government should develop a whole of government China policy
  • The Parliamentary Sub-committee on International Human Rights should carry out a full study on human rights in China
  • RCMP/CSIS should establish a comprehensive program to confront China’s harassment of Canadian human rights activists
  • GAC should carry out a human rights impact assessment of the FTA to ensure it is human rights compliant (and avoid side agreements)

Discussion following presentation

// There are human rights concerns in BC too. The Dalai Lama is interested in Nunavut as an example of self-determination. First Nations have talked to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about unresolved land rights in BC and also to minorities in China about their experiences. First Nations could be part of the engagement with China on human rights issues.

// We want to have the dialogue with Tibet re-started. That could be a legacy for this government.

// This information is very important for us and our customers. There are opportunities in developing relationships. In terms of cyber security, sharing information with the like-minded is important. There is a good question about when to engage multilaterally and when to engage bilaterally on these issues.

// We are concerned about the centralization of power. The private demarche is favored as we are more likely to get results this way. We need to work with the like-minded on this issue. We note that some countries are favoring their economic ties at the expense of human rights though. We need to be active bilaterally, but if we want to push the human rights agenda we need an alliance. We should start the conversation on human rights with China by noting that Canada is not perfect either, we have done things we are not proud of in the past, for example, in respect of indigenous peoples. We are always aspiring to be better and we want China to be better too. We can share from our own experiences, for example on the South China Sea issue, we have experience in managing common waters.

In terms of harassment in Canada, the Government has taken action and put countries on warning. It is difficult to act on anonymous social media actions though. On free trade, as we engage with them, we need to see if we can encourage them to the norms.

// We should use both avenues to raise human rights abuses — up front and public, and behind closed doors. Public pressure matters because it is important to communities and activists on the ground to hear those international statements.

// It is binding international law but there is no penalty for breaches, so if we don’t name and shame them, then we have lost the only lever we have.

// Interesting to hear that the Canadian Coalition of Human Rights Organizations in China is not against a FTA. Is there leverage that we can use relating to the FTA to improve the human rights situation?

// Very dark information that has been provided today. From the context of having done business there, lived there, operated there for many years, these things are going on whether Canada is engaged in China or not. Do we have a better chance of influencing Chinese behavior through more engagement and pursuing a FTA than otherwise? Some Chinese have expressed their concerns about a double standard being applied, arguing that there are dramatic human rights abuses in the US too.

// Engagement is important as it gives an avenue for influence, but not at all costs. We need to make sure that trade discussions go forward grounded in an awareness of and commitment to a trade deal that will not make things worse and ideally will be a vehicle for improvements.

In terms of whether there is a double standard — we need to push for human rights reform everywhere. Amnesty International, for example, is very active in the US on human rights issues too. But it doesn’t let China off the hook because there are abuses elsewhere.

// China talks a lot about the rule of law, but it is deaf on the rule of law and instead it is talking about rule by law. At end of the day it is all about the Communist Party and for them to maintain control. As long as the Communist Party maintains that tight fist we don’t have a chance on the rule of law. There is some increase in transparency in the sense of being able to bring cases forward in China and be listened to. They are also somewhat better on whistle-blowers now. The Chinese government sees the environment as an important issue as it can be destabilizing and they are concerned about stability. But the progress is too slow.

For Canada, our greatest strength is our commitment to human rights; we are one of the ones that can really make a difference long term. We have to be consistent. We should have a comprehensive approach to human rights, labor rights and the environment; it should not just be across government but a whole of society approach and make it a fundamental underpinning of our engagement with China. We are going to see things get worse on China, so we need a hard policy and not a soft policy, and it should include the private sector.

// We agree that we need something comprehensive that includes all the actors — government, business, universities etc. that have avenues of engagement with China.

// On Tibet, it is very hard for officials to get there, but the Government keeps persevering. The Government had a lot of engagement on the previous UPR and we will do the same for this next one. The UPR is a useful setting to engage because it’s multilateral. We can talk about Canada’s own issues and show what we did to respond.

The Government continues to make demarches on human rights issues — some behind closed doors and others not. Canada tries to have a level of contact with the small minority of human rights defenders but it usually has to be discreet. There have been some opportunities to introduce high level Canadians to these people, which is important for them to understand their situations.

On the FTA, this is an ongoing conversation. One of the things that undermines the conversation is the buy-in to the Chinese line that it is “either trade or human rights”. It is much more complex than that. There are a very limited number of cases where China has turned down a good economic case because of a country raising human rights concerns. Norway is the only example and so we should take that argument with a grain of salt. The interest that China has in economic reform has driven them into significant changes in their legal and judicial system; it was driven by commercial interests but still the changes have happened. There are two key groups that can benefit from these changes: consular cases and the Canadian business community.

// Agree that it is trade and human rights and not trade or human rights. The UPR is so significant because it is a new addition to the UN human rights machinery where China cannot escape the scrutiny.

// There is a charm campaign in the Canadian media, on twitter, to decrease the reticence of Canadians to accept a FTA with China. It comes across like the Canadian Government must convince people that the FTA is a good idea and that this reticence over human rights is the wrong idea. But that is wrong; it is violations of human rights in China that is the problem.

// Sometimes Canada does retaliate. For example, last summer we put out the strongest statement on the South China Sea issue and everyone said we would pay a huge price, but that didn’t happen.

Discussion on Next Steps for the Consultative Forum on China

Introductory Comments from Stephanie Carvin on her paper ‘A Mouse Sleeping Next to a Dragon: New Twitches and Grunts’

Key recommendations from the paper:

  • China is not going to go away. We should go slowly. One of Australia’s problems was that they tried to go too quickly in the end. Let’s go slow, let’s think about the areas where we can go forward — know the risks and work out which ones can be mitigated and which cannot.
  • The analogy of lobster (things you don’t have to worry about), canola (more of a grey area, you have to worry about some things like IP) and new technologies like cyber (serious issues) is a good one. We have to remember, China can use lobster against canola and vice versa, and use cyber against both.
  • We need to look at the behavior of the Chinese SOE. If you look at the trends, these SOEs are getting larger, they are merging; China says they are national champions.
  • We need to enhance our presence in China. Nothing will be solved by not being there. And not everything will be solved diplomatically.
  • Green tech: if China has monopoly on this it will hurt us moving forward.
  • Information sharing with business is a good idea
  • We need more knowledge about China. We need to invest in our own institutes — set them up right next to the Confucius Institutes on campuses.
  • China doesn’t let you forget its historical context, it uses it for justification of its actions. The question is whether China will be integrated into our world order or whether it will replace it.

// In the Canada-China relationship, the broader context has changed dramatically with the US, for example, the US pulling out of TPP gives China a huge advantage. With the Brexit, the UK is losing its influence. Russia is playing all sorts of games. North Korea is active. It’s the context for both us and China. Canada does best when it thinks about all the other players and works out what’s in its advantage.

It is not right to criticize China for being strategic — it should push us to be more strategic. As we don’t know China very well, we think they are homogenous. China isn’t homogeneous; it’s complex.

In terms of knowledge, we are concerned about the Confucius Institutes but we haven’t built our own institutes to study. China has exploited that gap, but we created the problem. It was the same with the US — we don’t have institutes for studying the US.

China loves bilateral relations. Canada always does best in a multilateral world. How can we engage alliances where we want to deal with problem areas?

The best way to deal with China is talk about an Asia strategy, that is we want to diversify from one to several and in the area where the world is growing fast. We are not desperate but we are planning ahead.

Unpacking generalizations is important. We worry about IP and investment. But there are some areas like tourism, education, fish, etc. that don’t have IP risks. We should focus on areas like advanced manufacturing where there are things to worry about.

// With respect to the references to Bombardier in Stephanie Carvin’s paper, they have never transferred any parts to China, if they were to read this they would object.

We should be supportive of a comprehensive FTA, otherwise we will lose leverage. We should look to where China will be in 15 years.

The government is pretty well-coordinated already (recommendation 3 of Stephanie Carvin’s paper). There is a China Institute at the University of Alberta, and there are moves to try and create one at the University of Ottawa.

// An engagement strategy is critically important and our tertiary institutes would be a key element of that. We need to do a better job at making sure our graduates know about China, what it takes to engage with China, etc. Our institutions have had relationships with China but we are not good at getting our Canadian students to China. 25,000 students do go abroad but traditionally this is to Australia, the US and Europe. It has been a challenge finding someone who will be a champion for this mobility. This is where this group can usefully have a conversation about how the private sector and universities can work together on this.

// China says there are about 3,800 Canadians studying in China. We are very supportive of developing China capacity. Young people are lining up at McGill and University of Toronto to take Mandarin classes — there is a problem with supply.

We should look more at internship opportunities in the private sector to take young people to China — it is very hard to find those opportunities and if they are found, then those returning have often discovered that Canadian businesses did not value that Chinese experience.

// In terms of public opinion, we have to recognize that there are two shadows of the past. The first is that there is a persistent view in some sectors of the “God-less communists”. There needs to be more discussions to move people to 2017. The second shadow of the past is people’s perception of the Chinese Canadian community. The kids and grand-kids of earlier Chinese migrants are different — we need to pay a lot more attention to the contemporary and emerging Chinese Canadians. It is this community that will be most persuasive in talking to their neighbors.

We should look again at fireside chats. Prime Minister Chrétien used successfully the ‘Team Canada’ visits. Wouldn’t recommend including Premiers this time. But the informality of the fireside chat as a means of developing opportunities and contacts should be explored. We sometimes overlook elemental things when we look forward. Who would have thought that among the leading instrument for engagement with China would be the BC chiefs? But they can make the case more efficiently and persuasively.

// The human rights conversation today was very encouraging — it seemed more constructive than the Canada-US conversation going on in the 1980s. There are concerns and we don’t want to go backwards, but there is something that is acceptable.

One question is how do we take this out to the broader public. Some people have suggested a white paper or a Royal Commission-type approach. A Royal Commission, however, would take a long time.

Next meeting is 1 December in Toronto.

[1] This refers to the goal to have 100,000 students study in China. This goal was reached in 2014.

PPF Consultative Forum on China

This two-year initiative by the Public Policy Forum and its partners will provide fresh ideas to shape the future of Canada’s relationship with China, one that is acceptable to Canadians seeking to understand the potentials and pitfalls of greater engagement.

Public Policy Forum

Written by

We work with government, the public service, the private sector, labour, academia, NGOs and Indigenous groups to improve policy outcomes for Canadians.

PPF Consultative Forum on China

This two-year initiative by the Public Policy Forum and its partners will provide fresh ideas to shape the future of Canada’s relationship with China, one that is acceptable to Canadians seeking to understand the potentials and pitfalls of greater engagement.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade