“Discreet and timid” approach to diplomacy with China not the way forward

In a world with the National Security Law, a hardline approach to diplomacy with China and collaboration with other like-minded countries are among the suggestions panellists made for Canadian policy going forward.

Photo: Anti-Authoritarianism Rally, 30 September, 2019. Courtesy of Harbour Times.


“We tend to be so discreet and timid in saying anything to China, so we accept China’s narrative over, and over, and over again,” asserts Lord Patten, Hong Kong’s last governor, at “Hong Kong – A Way Forward: How the free world will respond to Beijing’s Crackdown”, a webinar hosted in late September. The transcripts of this presentation were recently released to Harbour Times.

“And it’s not anti-Chinese to say that we should stand up for liberal democracy; standing up for liberal democracy means standing up for one another,” he continues.

This webinar was hosted by the MacDonald Laurier Institute, a Canadian, non-partisan, and independent public policy think tank that covers relevant issues to the federal government. Other panellists at the event included Nathan Law, former head of HK political party Demosisto, and Benedict Rogers, Chair of Hong Kong Watch.

The panel of speakers discussed the future of Hong Kong in light of the National Security Law, and how role Western nations, such as Canada, should respond as well as what role they play in safeguarding democratic rights and freedoms as the Chinese Communist Party’s governance continues to infringe on those in Hong Kong and other affected regions.

Chinese people, whether in Hong Kong, Taiwan or on the mainland, when given a choice, they choose freedom and democracy and we should stand behind that.

Garnett GenUIs, co-chair of the inter-parliamentary alliance on china

Garnett Genuis, co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, refers to this issue as “the most important conflict of the 21st century”, and that Hong Kong holds the key to helping us understand this conflict.

“In both Hong Kong and in Taiwan, we see people who have the same cultural heritage, who are Chinese, who speak Chinese languages, and they desire freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law… Chinese people, whether in Hong Kong, Taiwan or on the mainland, when given a choice, they choose freedom and democracy and we should stand behind that,” he argues.

Genuis suggests Canada respond to China in three ways: to pass legislation to deal with foreign interference and protect Canadians who are kidnapped or detained abroad, to prioritise the human rights, justice, and international law, and to pursue multilateral collaborations with other countries to stand up to China and forge new partnerships.

There are 600,000 Cantonese-speaking persons of Hong Kong origin who hold Canadian passports, with 300,000 of them living in Hong Kong, according to webinar moderator Dr Charles Burton. To the panellists, he asked whether Han Chinese Hong Kong residents who are foreign passport holders can have their consular rights as foreign citizens protected under current political circumstances.

“There may be an issue around the convention that people who are dual nationals may not normally be covered by the consulate,” says Benedict Rogers, co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, who had been denied entry into Hong Kong in 2017.

“But I think it’s something that should be visited if that’s the case. And I think like-minded countries (the UK, Canada, and others) should start talking about this together and see what protections can be offered because clearly, people are in danger.”

The Canadian Consular Services Charter has a procedural list of what to do if a Canadian citizen is arrested abroad. There are no specific protections outlined for arrests under the new security law, but there is a warning outlined in the “Law and Culture” tab of the travel advisories page for Hong Kong, warning travellers of the legislation and its severe consequences.
The full webinar is available on YouTube and a commentary transcript is also available on the MLI website.

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the author

Jasmine Lee is writer, commentator, and journalist. She graduated from McGill University where she took numerous opportunities to study and work around the world. Her specific areas of interest include media studies and human rights.