A former Canadian secretary of state for Asia-Pacific points to three issues the new foreign minister must deal with quickly.
U.S. President Joe Biden appears persuaded that there must be a strong coalition of like-minded allies to confront China on trade, international security and human rights. Canada should be a leader in that initiative, but we must prioritize three related issues as well:
1. The release of the two Michaels
Former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney wrote almost two years ago: “We have to secure the freedom of detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor … we’re also still in the grips of a misguided vision of China, one especially dear to the Canadian governing and business classes, that naïvely embraces almost everything Beijing has on offer … we must finally be open to the idea that, when it comes to engaging Beijing, smarter is better than comprehensive – and less is almost certainly better than more.”
This probably should include barring all imports to Canada from Xinjiang province, because so many are made by forced Uyghur labour. Importers could be required to rebut the presumption that their products are not the results of forced labour.
3. Respond vigorously to ongoing genocide
“Magnitsky” legislation makes it easier for governments, including Canada’s, to impose targeted financial and visa sanctions on human rights-abusing officials in Beijing. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the “Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act,” now under consideration by the Senate. The bill declares that unless U.S. Customs can verify that goods are not produced using forced labour, they cannot enter the United States. This is the most significant attempt to-date to pressure Beijing over its mass detention of Muslim minorities.
As you settle in as Canada’s new foreign minister, I urge you to pursue new policies with Beijing, both bilaterally and multilaterally.
David Kilgour was Canada’s Secretary of State (Asia-Pacific) from 2002 to 2003. This piece was written in collaboration with Peter Lamont, a retired military judge and former federal prosecutor with experience in extraditions.