In a recent commentary Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith suggested Green Party candidates’ path to victory was to question Canada’s “One China” policy. According to Smith, the candidates “missed an opportunity to win over the large number of Canadians who trace their roots back to Hong Kong and Taiwan and who are thoroughly disgusted with the behaviour of the Chinese government.”
Smith went on to say that if Green Party candidates’ had spoken out against the “Sinofascists in charge in China,” some of the large Hong Kong expat community in Canada “would have come out in force for any Green Party of Canada candidate who declared on their website that our country needs to respect the democratic desires of the former colony’s brave, democracy-loving residents.”
While Smith’s argument might persuade some caught up in the present wave of anti-China sentiment, the premise of his argument doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Whatever one’s opinion of the Chinese government, it is not wise to interfere in the internal affairs of another country—especially one so big and powerful.
So why would an otherwise sensible individual write such nonsense about China? Because as beneficiaries of Anglo-American colonialism we can be blind to our arrogance. Because the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand “Five Eyes” security agencies promote this type of thinking.
Let’s start with a little background:
Between 1841 and 1997 Hong Kong was a colony and dependent territory of the UK (with a Japanese interlude during World War II). Hong Kong was taken over at the end of the first British Opium War. That war weakened China’s central government and divided the country into foreign spheres of influence.
Taiwan’s relationship to mainland China is more complicated. Historically it was more independent from mainland China but the Kuomintang retreated there with some two million Chinese supporters in 1949 after they were defeated by Mao’s forces. For 21 years Ottawa recognized the government in Taiwan as the official representative of all China and until 12 years ago the governing party in Taiwan openly claimed it represented all of China.
From the Chinese perspective a One China policy reflects the end of the “century of humiliation” spurred by the Opium Wars. But, even after Mao’s victory largely consolidated the country and strengthened the central government, foreign powers sought to weaken China. In response to Mao’s victory, Canada sent 27,000 troops to Korea in the early 1950s where they fought Chinese troops. Canada refused to recognize the Chinese government until 1970.
More recently, Canada has pursued various measures to isolate and weaken China. Canada’s navy has run provocative patrols near its waters; Ottawa arrested one of its leading capitalists; the military has sought a small base in Singapore to keep an eye on China; Canada has troops in South Korea as part of a mission to contain China; Ottawa has sold nuclear material to India to counter China; Ottawa has failed to allow its firm to provide 5G networks, etc.
But, unlike similar destabilization/isolation campaigns against Venezuela, Iran, Haiti, etc., targeting China has limited negative impact on the target population because it is a very large country that has mostly broken from foreign domination. That doesn’t mean these efforts are benign however.
Conflict with China feeds the military/intelligence apparatus. It legitimates spending on new naval vessels and fighter jets as well as justifying the racist Five Eyes intelligence arrangement.
It has broader reverberations as well. China is so powerful that the Washington-led block’s efforts to target it undermines humanity’s efforts to mitigate the current pandemic, climate crisis and other pressing global matters.
The world doesn’t need a second Cold War. Calling for an end to Canada’s One China policy pushes us further down that path. So does calling for sanctions on China.
China is the most populous nation in the world. It’s only right that it would be among (or the) most powerful. We need to accept China’s rise and not expect a return to its previous weak and impoverished state. We also need to acknowledge its sensitivities because of the foreign interference the country had to overcome during its return to independence.
This isn’t an endorsement of the Chinese government’s policy in Hong Kong and Xinjiang or towards the “two Michaels” they’ve detained or “communist” billionaires. It’s simply the starting point for a serious, healthy, discussion of Canada-China relations.