The opposition parties in Parliament achieved a quick though roundabout response this week to their push to exclude Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies from Canada’s upgraded communications network. Canadian telecom operator Telus Corp. closed the door, as Bell and Rogers had already done, on use of Huawei equipment in the fifth-generation (5G) telecommunications networks they are now building.
The United States has been urging Canada and other western countries to exclude Huawei, for fear its equipment might be used to harvest data in aid of Chinese government espionage. Australia and the United Kingdom have complied. Canada has procrastinated, promising a decision later.
The Conservatives in Parliament have been urging Canada to take a tougher stand against China. A Conservative motion demanding a decision about Huawei in the next 30 days was passed by the House of Commons last Wednesday by 179 votes to 146 with the combined support of all the opposition parties.
With the Telus announcement this week, however, it hardly matters what the government decides: no Canadian telecom company is asking to buy Huawei 5G network equipment.
Canada’s main problem with China right now is the detention in Chinese prisons of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, an ex-diplomat and a businessman who are being held as hostages to compel Canada to release Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Canada is holding Ms. Meng at the request of the U.S. pending her possible extradition to face fraud charges in New York. Her extradition hearing continues in British Columbia Supreme Court while she lives under what amounts to house arrest in her own Vancouver mansion.
The Canadian government may have hoped that the prospect of selling 5G network equipment to this country might induce China to release the two Michaels. Since China has continued its cruel mistreatment of the two men for almost two years, that seems more and more like a vain hope.
The experience of the two Michaels should warn Canada to have nothing to do with Huawei. As soon as a Huawei executive fell afoul of Canadian courts, the Chinese Communist Party applied the full arbitrary power of the Chinese state to snatch two Canadian hostages and imprison them without trial.
The Chinese government must know by now that there’s no way Canada is going to do 5G business with Huawei. It would cost the Canadian government nothing to say as much. It might bruise the self-esteem of the ruling Liberal ministers a little to follow the lead of the Conservatives and the combined parliamentary opposition, but that’s a small price to pay.
The Conservative move in Parliament was intended to put the Liberals on the hook. The response from Telus Corp. gives the Liberals a way of wriggling off that figurative hook, since the government decision is now at best a moot point. Both parties, however, should focus on seeing the Meng Wanzhou matter through to its conclusion and bringing the two Michaels back to freedom and safety as quickly as possible.
Canada’s grand strategy for dealing with China is a problem for another day. China will still be a huge market for Canadian goods and a huge supplier for Canadian consumers. Canada, however, will have to see what the new Joe Biden administration will do about China before finding Canada’s role in the evolving superpower rivalry.