Lost in translation: the viral Xi-Trudeau encounter; Sanctions; Money laundering; Arctic
Is Taiwanese pop culture the answer to Canada-Taiwan relations?
Dear China watchers,
Nothing beats waking up on a Wednesday morning to a cringy conversation between Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and General Secretary Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 Summit. Have you ever felt an inconceivable urge to disappear from second-hand embarrassment? You might after watching a clip of the encounter, if you haven’t already.
Thanks for reading MiddlePowers! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
So much of Xi’s tone gets lost in translation, of course. But you don’t have to be a proficient Chinese speaker to notice how condescending he was to Trudeau. Here’s what Xi said to Trudeau in that brief encounter, both in Mandarin and English:
“[What we discussed] was on the newspaper. That is unbecoming. Moreover, that was not how it [the conversation] went. If you are genuine, we should communicate with each other in a mutually respectful manner. Otherwise, the outcome would be unpredictable… Make it happen. Make it happen.”
Now, there’s something that most media reports have missed when translating the exchange. At 45 seconds, just after the two ended the conversation, it sounded like Xi mumbled three words, as he walked past the camera, to his minion: “很天真” or “Very naive.”
Phew. We can still feel Trudeau’s discomfiture through the screen.
Awkwardness aside, Xi’s seemingly unscripted response tipped off an alarming level of misunderstanding of Canadian society on his part. Xi is implying that Trudeau is personally responsible for sharing information with the press despite the fact that it was an unnamed Canadian official who was quoted in the media. Moreover, the press is free from government control in Canada. Xi also appears to have unrealistic expectations as to what a Canadian prime minister can do when demanding that Trudeau “make it happen”.
The phrase “创造条件” or “make it happen” is part of a longer Cultural Revolution slogan “没有条件, 创造条件, 也要上”. It originated from an anecdote that a communist party member named Wang Jinxi supposedly jumped into piping-hot drilling mud and used his body to mix the fluid. (We are not sure how true that story is as it allegedly happened in one of the craziest times in Chinese history.) Wang was celebrated as a national hero for his contribution.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Cultural Revolution, this is a time in China when people set unrealistic and sometimes absurd goals such as eliminating sparrows to increase yields. The key message is if you try hard enough, anything can happen.
In Trudeau’s case, even if he was willing to jump in the mud, metaphorically, he is unable to hold onto the all-friendly China policy his father Pierre Trudeau once relished. Why? The circumstances have changed for Canada’s leader, with mounting pressure from the public and the opposition parties over Beijing’s human rights abuses.
But somehow the fact that a prime minister’s power is not absolute was lost on Xi. The same issue came up when Meng Wanzhou was detained by Canadian authorities. Xi reportedly flew into a rage at Canada, assuming that Trudeau knew about the arrest before it happened and chose not to inform him.
This time, Chinese spokesperson Mao Ning said Trudeau was the one being "condescending" in the apparently spontaneous conversation. Ning said the conversation was "quite normal and should not be interpreted as President Xi criticizing or blaming anyone."
While Canada debated over the dual-track China policy that it has always adopted, the real question should have been whether Beijing will still be receptive to the approach. When criticism can be construed as condescending and insincere, will Canada still be able to have a frank conversation with Beijing while still maintaining trade relations?
Beyond the cultural and political backdrop of this 40-second conversation is the fallen bilateral relationship and the clash of not just two world leaders but two fundamentally different political ideologies.
Sign of the times, indeed.
If you enjoy reading the newsletter, please take a few seconds to share with others and support our work.
On the hill
Sanction law; Election interference; 11 candidates
A private member’s bill
Sanction talk continues as China gets a dozen mentions in a debate on Bill C-281
This week, the Parliament’s Lower House moved forward with a bill that would amend four laws that regulate the relationship with foreign entities, including China. While the proposed act is a private member’s bill by MP Philip Lawrence (Conservative, Ontario) and therefore has a much lower chance of getting passed, the scope of the bill is compelling.
The bill would amend four significant acts: the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Act, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law), the Broadcasting Act and the Prohibiting Cluster Munitions Act.
Specifically, the bill proposes certain reporting requirements for the Minister of Foreign Affairs in relation to human rights. Note that the Global Affairs department is coming under increasing scrutiny after a committee report claimed the department's oversight is “inconsistent, and in some areas completely absent.” The National Security and Intelligence committee flagged concerns about Global Affairs’ aversion to keeping records.
The bill was first introduced in mid-July and has now, after being adopted at second reading, been referred to the Foreign Affairs and International Development committee for further scrutiny. MPs debated the bill on Monday then voted unanimously in favour of pushing it forward on Wednesday.
The second reading stage of the legislative process gives MPs an opportunity to debate the general scope of the bill. A bulk part of Monday’s debate was around human rights, sanctions under the Magnitsky Law, and government accountability.
All opposition parties mentioned China or Beijing in their arguments.
Here’s what they said:
From Luc Desilets (Bloc Québécois, Quebec):
“I want to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill, which we definitely think is important, particularly when it comes to human rights.”
“However, there are instances where we know very well that government may not want to take a stand on a human rights issue. We can also imagine that it may not want to make a decision public on an issue involving the Magnitsky law. I am thinking in particular of anything related to China and Saudi Arabia,” said Desilets.
From Heather McPherson (NDP, Alberta):
“We will still need a fulsome review and fix of Canada's sanctions regime, in particular the enforcement of sanctions….We have not done enough to deal with the ongoing genocide happening against the Uyghur people in China.”
“We need to be using the Magnitsky sanctions more. We need to ensure that we are specifically targeting those individuals who are causing these crimes…This is excellent legislation. We will be providing some friendly amendments.”
Other noteworthy questions
From Michael Chong (Conservative, Ontario)
“Despite the government knowing about this [China’s interference in the Canadian election] for at least 10 months, no one has been expelled, no one has been criminally charged and no action has been taken. The biggest victims of this interference is the Chinese community itself.”
“My question is simple. Who are these 11 election candidates?”
From Pierre Paul-Hus (Conservative, Quebec):
“Which 11 candidates benefited from the illegal money from the Chinese Communist Party?”
Taiwan; Indo-Pacific; Sanctions; Money laundering; Arctic; Ex-military pilots; CANlink Aviation
Parliamentary committees are indispensable to Canadian democracy. They have the power to invite witnesses, launch inquiries, and most importantly, study bills and make recommendations to the Parliament. They also give MPs an opportunity to really dig deep into an area that they otherwise won’t be able to.
The China-Canada Relationship Committee, which we have been following closely, has yet to wield that power as it continues plowing away at its study on bilateral relations. As noted in previous editions, the special committee has heard some conflicting opinions from witnesses, making it even more challenging for the MPs to tackle the task at hand.
However, the committee is not the only entity worth keeping an eye on from a China watcher's perspective. As you will read in this section, multiple committees, both in the upper and lower chambers have probed into matters relating to China.
Capitalize the T-wave
What should Canada do about Taiwan?
That is one of the questions being pondered by MPs at the latest China-Canada Relationship Committee meeting. The committee listened to Dr. Tong Lam, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto and Colin Robertson, Senior Advisor and Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, both of whom reiterated what witnesses have said at previous China-Canada committee meetings: Canada should support Taiwan’s bid to join international organizations and boost trade cooperation if it wants to deter a Chinese invasion of the island nation.
Whether Canada will follow the advice, however, remains unclear, especially following recent remarks from Australia, whose China strategy is hailed by many experts appearing before the committee. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese suggested Thursday that Canberra is unlikely to support Taiwan’s push to join the CPTPP because it’s not a “recognized” state.
On the other hand, the committee heard Robertson’s estimation that Taiwan, in fact, does qualify for the trade partnership and China doesn’t, unless it made changes to its trade regulations that it’s likely not willing to enact.
“We’re good on the diplomatic side,” said Robertson in response to a question from Michael Chong (Conservative, Ontario) on how Canada should prepare for an attack on Taiwan. Robertson said he hoped the Indo-Pacific strategy will include reinvestments into growing Canadian military power following Australia’s footsteps. This sentiment is shared by several experts. (Scroll down for more on Canada’s security announcement this week)
Robertson emphasized the importance of engagement with Beijing in areas such as climate change, which is in line with Canada’s policy so far. He also mentioned the need for sanctions, specifically to prevent China from taking hostages, and enhancing cybersecurity to protect Canadian businesses—both are recurring themes in this week’s newsletter.
What can Ottawa do to support Taipei without provoking Beijing? The question came from Heather McPherson (NDP, Alberta)—who seems to praise Taiwan’s democratic system at every meeting. Besides trade, health, and people-to-people relations, Lam had an interesting take: the government needs to promote Taiwan as a place beyond the tech hub it’s known to be.
“[Taiwan] is a place with real people, with social texture. A very vibrant film industry, popular culture. When you think about Korean K-wave, one can argue there is a T-wave. I think those things need to be elevated and I don’t think they would be provoking China at all.”
Lam added that Canada’s position as a mecca for international students from all over the world, including China and Taiwan, lends itself well to positive relationships between Chinese and Taiwanese students. We humbly oppose though, Mr. Lam. If you’ve been a student at Canadian universities over the past few years, you’d know this is wishful thinking. Chinese student groups have reportedly harassed and intimidated pro-democracy activists.
Canada, like other middle powers, is struggling to identify its leverage when negotiating with the Asian superpower. MP Peter Fragiskatos (Liberal, Ontario) asked: “One can make the argument that the U.S. is more likely to be heard by China on the issue of climate change. And then the door opens to discussion and deliberation between those two superpowers, but Canada is not in that category clearly. So how do we get China's attention on this and in what areas can we specifically focus to advance the dialogue?”
To which Jonathan Berkshire Miller, director of the Indo-Pacific program at the Macdonald Laurier Institute, responded: “Canada can't do much to influence the Chinese position but our strength is to rally its allies and work with like-minded states. And one of the ideas that is now being discussed in Europe is to impose customs duties based on the pollution rates of international imports. If there's international consensus, with respect to commercial trade, that we impose costs on pollution. I think that's one of the ways that we can influence China.”
Follow the money
Banks say they are working with the RCMP to catch sanction evaders.
Sanction talk also transpired in the Parliament’s Upper Chamber this week. The senate committee on foreign affairs and international trade discussed Sergei Magnitsky Law and the Special Economic Measures Act, with a focus on the challenges facing the banking sector.
Recent media reports that Beijing has funnelled illegal money to fund campaigns have prompted questions from Canadian senators over existing countermeasures. Stephen Alsace, global head of economic sanctions at the Royal Bank of Canada, said banks purchase, at an added cost, “enhanced intelligence” from third-party service providers which flag individuals, like friends and family, who might not appear on sanction lists. Alsace’s team combs through social media to identify these people.
Senator Leo Housakos (Conservative, Quebec) asked: “We’ve heard through media sources a number of operations and entities that are funding electoral campaigns here in Canada.. … So besides Google searches and the due diligence you’re taking to deal with the process, are there any measures of cooperation, tangible cooperation with our security forces?”
Alsace responded: “From a sanctions evasion perspective, yes, the banks are cooperating with RCMP. RCMP is kicking off an evasion project, a public-private partnership that we are involved with.”
Angelina Mason, with the Canadian Bankers Association: “From an AML [anti-money laundering] perspective, there’s always intelligence coming this way from FINTRAC [Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada] if they’re looking for us to identify specific indicators which we would then apply as we review unusual or suspicious activities.
The banks were essentially asking for “publicly available guidance” from Global Affairs Canada on the interpretation and intent behind the regulations associated with the sanction laws. After hearing from the witnesses, Senator Peter Harder (Progressive Senate Group, Ontario) said the lack of operational coordination across jurisdictions regarding sanctions, especially within the G7, should be a major takeaway for the committee.
A little background on the Special Economic Measures Act. The act allows Canada to impose sanctions on foreign entities due to human rights violations, corruption, or a breach of international peace and security that could result in a serious international crisis. Through the act, Canada has taken punitive measures against Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, among others.
No further action on ex-pilot probe, for now
China doesn’t pose a military threat to Canada’s Arctic. Yet.
The standing committee on national defence met Tuesday to talk about Arctic security. It’s the sixth meeting where MPs discuss and hear from witnesses about Canada’s precarious situation in the Arctic and what can be done to protect its sovereignty. The committee’s study on the Arctic is taking longer than expected due to multiple witness cancellations.
In his opening remarks Kevin Hamilton, director general of international security policy at the foreign affairs ministry, said China’s self-designation as a quasi-Arctic state is “not recognized internationally.”
The motive behind China’s advance in the region continues to pique MP Darren Fisher’s interest (Liberal, Nova Scotia). Fisher: “In [China’s Arctic policy], China is developing military projection capabilities, is mentioned, and that would extend into the Arctic region. … What is their thought behind developing military projection capabilities in the Arctic region?”
In response, Hamilton said the Arctic is only one region where China is boosting its military presence.
“ … At this moment we don’t assess that China has the capability to project military power towards the Canadian Arctic.”
Hamilton said China could send vessels or undertake "concerning" activities but "projecting a blue water military capability across the Pacific towards our Arctic" is not seen as a "challenge" right now.
"It is very likely it will become a challenge in the future, however.”
He mentioned Beijing facing setbacks to its goals in the Arctic, such as failing to send its icebreaker into the region in 2022 as it undergoes repairs. Chinese state media reported that the PRC launched one of its two icebreakers for the country’s third Arctic expedition in late October. The report doesn’t match Hamilton’s claim that the Chinese icebreaker remains docked this year. The article doesn’t mention the fate of the second icebreaker but says the researchers will use the country's first polar plane for terrain exploration.
The committee also discussed a motion put forward by MP James Bezan (Conservative, Manitoba). Bezan, the shadow minister of national defence, is suggesting the committee invites CANlink Aviation, a Canadian company which operates a flight school that trains pilots from the People’s Liberation Army. Bezan said he heard about CANlink’s potential involvement through media reports. (Although we couldn’t find any.)
A debate ensued with the Liberals speaking out against the motion.
MP Bryan May (Liberal, Ontario): “There has been no confirmation that I’ve seen on any of these reports … I just think we’re fishing and I’m not sure this is again a good use of our time.”
Jennifer O'Connell (Liberal, Ontario): “Frankly, if there are companies operating, breaking law … that is a role for police, not the defence committee to go on an investigation. And the implication of inviting them if there is no wrongdoing is now putting in the public sphere that there is wrongdoing and I’m very uncomfortable with that without a more credible source or any sort of backing up.”
Bezan refuted any concerns around slandering the company since it was singled out by another aviation company in South Africa suspected of training Chinese army pilots. We assume he means The Test Flying Academy of South Africa.
Bezan: “We know that CANLink has been named by the company in South Africa. So, if there’s anything that’s libellous in that, they can take legal action against that company.”
MPs from all parties, including Bezan, expressed their frustration over the lack of transparency from the witnesses invited by the committee to speak on the ex-pilot controversy over the past few weeks. Most notably, the Department of National Defence flip-flopped between giving non-answers and deferring to the Department of Justice. May called the testimonies “incredibly repetitive” while Bezan said it was “unhelpful.” Bezan also mentioned the RCMP’s refusal to appear before the committee regarding the matter.
The motion was turned down in a close vote. The Liberals and the only NDP member on the committee were against it, while the Conservatives and the only Bloc member voted yes.
Events and announcements
Security; Indo-Pacific strategy; Investment
Look beyond trade
More actions, please, say experts.
Four China experts shared key aspects that they’d like to see in Canada’s upcoming Indo-Pacific strategy. We tuned in to the online panel hosted by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy on Wednesday.
If you missed our live tweets on the event, here’s some highlights from the panel:
Jonathan Berkshire Miller, said Minister Mélanie Joly’s speech last week had “some positive signs in it.” “We need to see actions rather than words and intention,” he said.
Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s former ambassador in China, said he was interested to see how much of the policy will be devoted to security and what will be proposed on reinforced alliances with friendly nations. A point supported by Miller who made a similar argument as an expert witness at the last China-Canada special committee. “We can't go to South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, and just have discussions on trade. They're all facing significant security concerns across the board. So I do hope that the Indo-Pacific strategy addresses this,” said Miller.
It was as if Prime Minister Trudeau took their advice to heart when he announced on Friday that the Indo-Pacific strategy will include new investments to strengthen the role that the Canadian Armed Forces play in the region. The announcement was made as he wrapped up his participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council of Canada, said his message to Canadian businesses is to be careful and not extract themselves from the Chinese market too quickly. He asked for clarity on what businesses are allowed to invest in and what the rules are.
Evan S. Medeiros, U.S.-China expert and chair of Asian Studies at Georgetown University, remains skeptical of China’s claim on collaboration, saying that Beijing is not really that interested in any kind of cooperation that doesn't result in an “immediate and tangible material gain.”
“I think it's a very material cost-benefit calculus on the part of the Chinese…”
We’re sure everyone following the discussions around the strategy will be looking for how Canada plans to grow international clout, given that multiple experts referred to the importance of working with allies to counter China over the past few weeks.
We’ve already seen a teaser of Ottawa’s plan last Saturday through Trudeau’s ASEAN summit announcement, where Canada pledged C$333M over the next five years to strengthen ties with the Southeast Asian nations. There was also more cash promised on Wednesday at the G20 summit, about C$900M. More than three quarters will be allocated to support sustainable infrastructure needs in the Indo-Pacific region through FinDev Canada.
Halifax Security Forum
While it’s named after a small city on the east coast of Canada, the independent organization is actually headquartered in Washington D.C. The high-profile nonprofit has recently grown increasingly hawkish towards China, creating its own set of “China principles.” Last year, the forum awarded Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen with the John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service, despite pressure from Canada and Beijing.
Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand delivered open remarks at this year’s annual conference. Contrary to what this Toronto Star article has learned, the Indo-Pacific region was not a focus of the minister’s keynote. The word Indo-Pacific was only mentioned once.
Defence Minister Anita Anand announced a proposal to establish an innovation hub in Halifax for NATO.
The daughter of a missing Chinese human rights activist pleaded with the Canadian government to pressure Vietnam and China to reveal his whereabouts.
Another story by Sam Cooper on two separate investigations involving Beijing’s interference. A prominent businessman in Toronto’s Chinese community is the subject.
Ottawa will maintain a respectful relationship with China, said International Trade Minister Mary Ng. Although she warned that Canada’s biggest trading partner in Asia has changed.
The Procedure and House affairs committee agreed to probe claims that PRC interfered in the 2019 Canadian elections.
Finally, for your amusement:
That’s a wrap! See you in the next issue.
Thanks for reading MiddlePowers! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.