China is arguably the rogue state ‘du jour’ in Canada, though Russia is giving it some firm competition.
How is the Canadian government dealing with each nation?
In Russia’s case, the response to the invasion of its neighbour is clear – provide weapons to Ukraine, impose economic sanctions against the Russian state, and freeze or seize assets held by Russian oligarchs. That’s hardline diplomacy – war by any other name.
China poses a trickier challenge to the Trudeau government, even as its rogue state credentials pile up.
In early February, public attention was seized by the ‘spy balloon’ which the US shot down over South Carolina.
Since then, a series of explosive media leaks show China is way too active inside Canada’s borders.
China’s alleged wrongdoings include election interference, disinformation campaigns, and using Chinese scientists and graduate students as spies inside Canadian universities, research institutions, tech firms and defense industries.
The Trudeau government’s response suggests ‘soft’ diplomacy, evident most clearly in its rejection of calls for a public inquiry into election interference by China.
Instead, a special rapporteur will quietly investigate the matter and eventually report something to the public. This is called buying time.
How to distinguish soft diplomacy from the tougher kind?
The hardline approach provides its practitioners ethical clarity – ‘We’re doing the right thing here’ – and damns the consequences.
Those consequences, in the case of response to the invasion of Ukraine, included disruptions to world food supplies and to shipments of Russian natural gas to Western Europe.
Soft diplomacy, mindful of the consequences, gives peace and back-channels a chance.
Canada is leaning toward a softer approach in the case of China, or at least toward leaving that option open, a fact that may well please leaders in Atlantic Canada’s seafood and forestry sectors.
Well, China is a high-value market for seafood and pulp from this region, providing a major boost for rural economies in Atlantic Canada.
Should Canada (further) compromise these resource sectors by hardening its diplomatic response to China’s egregious activities inside our borders?
Solomon may have an answer to that question, but from the CrowsNest we don’t spot anyone else who does.
In that context, the Trudeau government would do well to fully consider the consequences of making up its mind on China any time soon.
Buying time is not always a bad idea.