The rebuke was a calculated part of the campaign. Xi had not even granted Trudeau a proper meeting at the G20. Denied a formal bilateral meeting, his first conversation was merely a 10-minute informal chat at the welcome desk, with both men standing. In fact, Albanese, who was nearby, briefly interrupted them to tell Xi that he was looking forward to their next informal meeting. It was that informal.
Trudeau dared to complain to Xi about China’s covert interference in Canada’s latest national election, according to the Canadian government. But only because he had been ashamed of it. canadian voice over global news broke the story this month that Chinese Communist Party operatives had carried out a campaign of clandestine interference in the 2019 election..
Party operatives covertly endorsed 11 candidates, from the two main parties, according to the report. In one case, they sent C$250,000 or about $280,000 to a candidate’s campaign. How many won their seats? We do not know it yet.
The operation, reportedly run from the Chinese consulate in Toronto, also sought to place operatives inside the offices of serving MPs in an attempt to influence policy, according to the report. And they tried to “coopt and corrupt” former Canadian officials to gain influence in the political system.
Having exposed this, Trudeau publicly denounced China’s “aggressive” foreign interference. the global news The report also said that the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service had informed Trudeau about the Chinese operation in January, but that he had kept the information for himself. The prime minister denied having any such knowledge.
Even if it is true that Trudeau had no knowledge of this specific operation, this is no excuse. He has been warned for years. “He has failed to protect our democracy,” accused the opposition leader, Pierre Poilievre.
The director general of intelligence assessments for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Adam Fisher, told a parliamentary committee this month: “Without a doubt, China is the main aggressor. in the world by interfering with and “corrupting” the political systems of other nations.
He told lawmakers that China was “interested in working within the system to corrupt it, engaging officials, elected officials and individuals at all levels of government, within industry, within civil society, using our free and open society to their nefarious purposes.”
This is exactly what Beijing was doing in Australia. It was the reason why the government of Malcolm Turnbull legislated, with the full support of Labor and much to China’s chagrin, the Foreign Interference and Espionage Acts of 2018.
And the Trudeau government had done very little about it. “This has been going on in Canada for 20 years since CSIS named Chinese United Front interference in a provincial election,” says Lowy Institute China expert Richard McGregor.
Canada is only now talking about adopting some of the Australian measures. Turnbull is puzzled. “It’s funny that they haven’t moved,” he tells me. “The important thing is to stay firm. What is the alternative? To turn around foreign interference and espionage.”
That’s exactly what happened. The reason Xi is bullying Trudeau is because it has been working. “Canada has been slow to turn around, worried about being seen as confrontational,” says McGregor, “but that is changing now.”
Canada became the latest of the Five Eyes nations this year to ban Huawei from its 5G system., a full four years after the Turnbull government became the first to exclude it. Just this month, Ottawa ordered China to sell its stake in three critical Canadian mineral deals.
To be fair, Trudeau appears to have stayed his hand in part because Beijing was holding two Canadians hostage in Chinese jails. Trudeau would not have wanted to jeopardize his release, which was orchestrated in a deal last September.
While lagging behind to guard against Chinese subversion, Canada can expect more pressure tactics from Xi. It should be inspired by the Australian example, Turnbull says: “If you’re being bullied and coerced, you don’t earn respect by giving in. Defend your position.”
Lowy’s McGregor adds that he looks at Australia’s experience: “They can defend their sovereignty and survive and actually prosper.”
Peter Hartcher is an international editor.
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