Senior Liberal MP urges Trudeau cabinet to ‘wake up and smell the roses’ on China

Liberal MP Wayne Easter holds a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa in 2015.

SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Liberal chair of the Commons finance committee says a budget recommendation calling on Ottawa to pull out of the Beijing-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank should serve as a “wake up and smell the roses” moment for Canada.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who also served as solicitor-general under Jean Chrétien in charge of Canada’s security agencies, told The Globe and Mail Tuesday that Canada needs to recognize the serious threat China poses to western democracies. He also criticized the fact that universities are still conducting research projects with Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

The finance committee in a report Tuesday made the recommendation to withdraw from the AIIB, which the Trudeau government joined in 2017, with plans to contribute US$995-million.

The Conservative Party has long called for the cancellation of Canadian participation, while the Department of Global Affairs itself has warned that Beijing has built the bank in part “to leverage its economic prowess to gain regional influence and export its model of governance around the world.”

Mr. Easter said MPs on the committee questioned whether AIIB was actually helping to improve the quality of living in Asian countries or simply being used by Beijing to push its Belt and Road initiative that is aimed at expanding China’s global economic and military power.

“There are questions around whether this infrastructure bank is, in fact, doing that,” he said. “That recommendation from the committee should be a message to the government that … [Ottawa should ] wake up and smell the roses.”

Mr. Easter said there is an larger issue at play and that is the necessity for the Canadian government to confront China’s growing influence in Canada, including its intimidation of Chinese-Canadians and its efforts to obtain technology from Canadian universities.

The Globe and Mail reported Monday that the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), a federal agency, is collaborating with the Canadian arm of Huawei to fund the studies.

NSERC is putting up $4.8-million for research partnerships that include the company. The Chinese technology giant would not divulge its contribution but would only say it is “greater than $4.8-million.”

“I am concerned that we have tied Huawei into the research,” Mr. Easter said. “Government agencies shouldn’t be tying Huawei into the universities systems, either. That is a concern.”

Top universities in the United States and Britain have also undertaken studies with funding from Huawei, but shunned further research money from the company over intellectual-property and national-security concerns.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has warned the universities about collaboration with Huawei but a CSIS source said the spy agency does not have the authority to tell them not to deal with Huawei.

“It has got to be so frustrating for CSIS,” Mr. Easter said. “China is trying to infiltrate itself into the university system. They are playing a game and we better recognize Huawei is just an arm of China “

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said it’s time for the government to make a decision to withdraw from the China-led bank. “This is a Trojan horse for Beijing.”

NDP finance critic Peter Julian said his party has long opposed Canada’s financial support of the Asian bank.

Universities have defended working with Huawei by saying that Ottawa hasn’t told them not to.

Stephanie Carvin, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa, who was previously a national-security analyst in the federal government, said CSIS has advised many universities about the dangers of working with research partners associated with authoritarian regimes such as China.

“It’s not even that they [universities] should read between the lines; they have been given the lines. They have been directly provided the advice against accepting money from companies like Huawei,” she said.

Prof. Carvin said last year CSIS briefed more than 400 companies and research organizations comprising 2,000 individuals in universities, the private sector and research fields. This included 40 universities across Canada’s 10 provinces. She said recent emphasis focused on protecting vaccine research but said CSIS has for years talked to universities about the risks of working with countries such as China and the challenge they pose to research integrity.

“They have absolutely been given this advice. It is their prerogative to ignore this advice, but to pretend they haven’t been warned is just wrong.”