As Conservatives call for crackdown, O’Toole calls Chinese influence a ‘threat’ to Canada


Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said today Canada must crack down on the growing influence of the Chinese communist regime, adding there’s “no greater threat to Canada’s interests than the rise of China” in global affairs.

O’Toole said the western world has tolerated China’s human rights abuses, intellectual property theft and manipulative trade practices for decades in order to gain access to the country’s burgeoning economy. He said it’s time for Canada and its closest allies to adopt a more aggressive posture.

“The democratic world must acknowledge that the approach to China over the last two decades has not worked. In fact, the situation has gotten worse,” O’Toole told reporters on Parliament Hill.

He said the move to normalize relations and admit China to the World Trade Organization has had “catastrophic impacts for Canadian workers.”

“We falsely believed that ignoring the sharp edges of communism would, over time, smooth them out by putting trade ahead of our values.”

Conservative MP Michael Chong, the party’s foreign affairs critic, will table a motion today to put pressure on the Liberal government to ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from building Canada’s 5G network. Most of the country’s wireless providers have opted already to work with Sweden-based Ericsson.

Huawei’s founder has close ties to China’s communist leadership and intelligence partners have long warned that the company’s technology could be used to spy on Canadians. O’Toole said Huawei’s global success is due in part to “years of industrial espionage” against the now-defunct Canadian tech giant Nortel.

The motion, if passed, also would compel the Liberal government to develop a comprehensive plan to protect Canada from “the growing influence of Chinese agents” on our soil.

O’Toole said Canada has tolerated the proliferation of Confucius Institutes — state-backed Chinese language centres — that push state propaganda.

O’Toole said Canadian university professors have been bullied into weakening their teachings on human rights abuses for fear of offending mainland Chinese students, while pro-Beijing media outlets have disseminated anti-western narratives.

“Canadians of Chinese origin have been threatened by foreign agents in our country. Anti-Hong Kong protests were organized in Canada to bully democracy activists. Uighur students in our universities have been de-platformed and menaced in coordinated actions led by Chinese consulates across our country,” he said.

“And the very values we hold dear, like openness, justice and tolerance, have been weaponized against us.”

Asked if passing such a motion would further damage already shaky bilateral relations between Canada and China, O’Toole said that while he’s concerned about the status of two Canadians held in Chinese prisons, the current government’s approach hasn’t yielded results.

Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been held in China for 708 days. “A weak response by Mr. Trudeau has not led to any progress in the case of the two Michaels,” O’Toole said. “A more principled, a stronger approach may make progress.”

People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during an extradition hearing for Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, March 6, 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

China has retaliated against countries that have criticized its behaviour through trade action. O’Toole said Canada shouldn’t be intimidated by such threats.

“Canada should work very closely with our Five Eyes allies … so that it’s difficult for China to use its immense economic size to intimidate smaller economies like Canada,” O’Toole said, citing the intelligence-sharing alliance between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

“We may be a smaller economy in comparison with China but we are a giant when it comes to the rights we hold dear, human rights, the rule of law and the security of our citizens.”

O’Toole said Canada must strengthen its relationship with other Asian economies — Canada joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017 — and bolster trade with India. “We need to look for new markets,” he said.

The motion comes days after the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights released a report condemning China for committing genocidal acts against the Uighur Muslim minority. Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Bob Rae, said Sunday he would encourage the body’s human rights committee to probe the plight of China’s Uighur population.

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