TORONTO - Once one leaves the comfort of one’s pond a whole di.erent world unfolds. Our vulnerabilities are quickly exposed to others’ cynical self-interest.
The “Make America Great Again”, “take no prisoners”, “it’s all about my deal” President is churning up whatever vestiges of sovereign dignity our government might have had.
Symbolism, ‘‘face” and heart, what’s right for the moment, the occasion and the purpose. These are the ingredients of policy that withstand scrutiny and endure stresses like Trump.
They require courage and sagacity on the part of our Leaders, or those who occupy the Chair. This is how people outside of Canada evaluate us.
A Chinese friend of mine, William, on visit to Canada last week, “hooked me into” a discussion about international affairs by commenting on my many and frequent travels through many parts of China, during the transformation of the Central Kingdom in the 1990s and the early years of this century.
Now a professor and advisor to senior government o©cials in Beijing, he wondered which country would be harmed most by the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s CEO.
Would it be Canada, China or the USA? Why? If anyone would have an answer, I would, he claimed. “Friendship” – which is at the base of all [commercial] bilateral relationships for the Chinese – notwithstanding, I sensed a test.
Treading cautiously, I began with the predictable talk about process, the rule of law, obligations, our long history with China and our bi-lateral constraints with the USA.
In the large scheme of things, I offered, tentatively, our longstanding relationship with China would dictate a mutually beneficial solution. He cut me off unceremoniously.
“Chinese know about the rule of law and the constraints Canada’s relationship with the USA impose on Canadian sovereignty”, he said, “and, we respect that”, he added unconvincingly.
Someone a little less diplomatic would have used more pedestrian vocabulary. “What we don’t understand is why it was necessary to bring a [Chinese] woman, an influential one at that, into Court, wearing a prison jumpsuit and shackles. She hasn’t been convicted of anything yet. Not anywhere, especially in Canada.
Who was the Court trying to humiliate?” For William, “Face” (respect, deference, recognition of the other’s dignity) was the issue. Canada was making a deliberate choice, unwilling or unable to navigate between the conflicting interests of two Big “friends”.
“The allegations/charges – unproven - were made by Americans who seized the timing of her travel schedule, to state claims that will take years for the Courts to solve”, he gushed.
“They asked a compliant Canada to do their dirty work,” he added, all worked up. It did not take long for the language to escalate from “compliant” to “complicit”.
“She was on route to Mexico, William added, why didn’t the Americans ask the Mexicans to detain her?” “And, by the way, YOUR Prime Minister was advised beforehand, now he’s complaining that China enforces its own laws on its own territory”, he piled on.
The fact that Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, put out a halfhearted admonition to China did more harm than good, according to William. It was, in his opinion, further evidence that our PM was merely a “reed in the wind, bending to America’s bluster”.
It was not always so.
How could I argue with him when other news outlets report that our PM has asked Trump help solve our di.erences with China? It wasn’t our fight.
Now Canadians must tread carefully in country that was until a few weeks ago a friend with open arms.
“Maybe YOUR PM should tweet comedian Trevor Noah and donate another $ 50 million to his causes if he'll help”, offered William in closing. Ouch!
(to be continued)