Opinion: The likelihood that we are on the cusp of a new cold war must factor into our economic decision-making. In this opinion piece for the National Post, Patricia Adams of Probe International asks: “Would it have been prudent for Canada to cast its lot with the Soviet Union in the 1950s, when the geopolitical winds were blowing belligerent?”
By Patricia Adams
Because of China’s rise and economic might, many Canadians think we ultimately will have no choice but to accede to China’s demands, give up Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou, and resume business with China for the sake of our economic future.
These Canadians need to think again. The future’s not what it used to be. Under President Xi Jinping’s reign, China’s rise has not only stalled, it could actually have begun its decline, as recent economic data shows. With a debt to GDP ratio close to 300%, with US$1 trillion being spent on money-losing projects in its Belt and Road Initiative, and with manufacturing fleeing China for Vietnam and other countries to escape Trump’s tariffs, China faces a looming economic crisis that has led many to question Xi’s hold on power, particularly since hawks in his Politburo are seen as having vetoed his trade agreement with Trump.
China’s communist regime has become widely perceived as an existential threat
Quite apart from economic data that may be headed south — China’s sliding GDP growth has dropped to 6.2 per cent, its weakest pace in almost three decades — the geopolitical climate has turned even more dramatically. Until recently, China was widely seen as a benign giant whose human-rights abuses and other failings the West was all too willing to overlook.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously said in 2013 “There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China, because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy around on a dime.” The Obama administration in its 2015 National Security Strategy welcomed “the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China,” emphasizing “the scope of our co-operation with China is unprecedented.”
That sentiment lives on among veteran “China hands” from the scholarly, foreign policy, military and business communities who in an open letter recently urged U.S. President Donald Trump to remember that “China is not an enemy” Though China has had “troubling behaviour in recent years” they say: “We do not believe Beijing is an economic enemy or an existential national security threat that must be confronted in every sphere.”
Their decades-long mantra — that China would become a “responsible stakeholder” once a sufficient level of economic modernization was achieved — is no longer believed.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch voiced the new normal, saying “Under President Xi Jinping, China saw its most significant human rights erosion since the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, yet Obama failed to develop anything remotely like a strategy to support those across China struggling to defend basic freedoms.” In releasing its first National Security Strategy in December 2017, the Trump administration effectively labelled China, along with Russia, as an antagonist using “technology, propaganda, and coercion to shape a world antithetical to our interests and values.”
Today, China’s communist regime has become widely perceived as an existential threat, not only to Hong Kong and Taiwan, which it threatens to invade, but also to other nations in the South and East China Seas and to America itself. As Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on his reappointment as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September 2017: “I think China probably poses the greatest threat to our nation by about 2025.” As FBI Director Christopher Wray told members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2019, “there is no country that poses a more severe counterintelligence threat to this country right now than China.” The FBI has more than 1,000 active investigations into attempted theft of U.S. intellectual property, with nearly all involving China.
Given China’s intent to overtake the U.S. and become the world’s dominant power by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the Communist Revolution — a vow echoing the Soviet Union’s determination to bury the capitalist West — the possibility, even the likelihood, that we are on the cusp of a new cold war must factor into our economic decision-making.
Would it have been prudent for Canada to cast its lot with the Soviet Union in the 1950s, when the geopolitical winds were blowing belligerent? The question answers itself, as does the question of whether it would be prudent today for Canada to cast its lot with China, a country whose animus to us could not be clearer.
Rather than doubling down on our ties to China, Canada needs to disentangle itself. Economic prudence lies in hedging our bets, and extricating ourselves from a relationship with a bullying China that wants us suppliant and petitioning at best.
Patricia Adams is an economist and executive director of Toronto-based Probe International. Email: Patricia.Adams@ProbeInternational.org.