When historians look back at 2020, they will not only see the pandemic as a time of massive social and economic upheaval, but the moment when China decided to fully assert itself on the world stage.
COVID-19 offered the cover China’s Communist rulers needed to crack down on Hong Kong, get tough on Taiwan, increase its military presence in the South China Sea and step up its bullying tactics against Western countries, including Canada.
There is now broad-based agreement in the West that something has to be done to counter the threat posed by Beijing. It is one of the few issues that unites Democrats and Republicans in the United States. But in Canada, our parliamentarians seem oddly divided on the issue, despite the fact that we’ve been the victim of Chinese aggression.
Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the actions of NDP MP Niki Ashton.
This week, the member of Parliament for the Manitoba riding of Churchill—Keewatinook Aski came under fire, along with Green MP Paul Manly, for agreeing to participate in an online panel discussion sponsored by handful of left-wing groups titled, “Zoom to Free Meng Wanzhou.”
To be sure, her failure to show up to the event was not meant as a disavowal of her pro-China stance.
Ashton was one of only three NDP MPs who broke party ranks to vote against the recent Conservative motion calling on the government to make a decision on whether to allow Huawei to participate in the development of Canada’s 5G networks and to develop a plan to get tough on China. She also sponsored a petition to the House of Commons demanding that Canada stop extraditing Meng and welcome Huawei tech with open arms.
Anyone who would write off Ashton as a victim of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s propaganda campaign only has to look at her stance on other geopolitical issues to realize that she has a disturbing habit of siding with despots and terrorists. Last year, she expressed support for Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro.
During her failed NDP leadership bid in 2017, she was sent a series of questions by two anti-Israel groups who graded her based on how strongly she stood up for the Palestinians and condemned Israel. She got an A+.
Ashton also received an endorsement from an Arabic-language newspaper known for denying the Holocaust and praising terrorist attacks against the Jewish state. Although she ultimately rejected the endorsement, she in no way distanced herself from her anti-Israel views.
That same year, she was denounced by B’nai Brith Canada for attending a rally in support of Palestinian terrorists and questioning Israel’s right to exist on social media. A couple years later, she sponsored a Commons petition written by a pro-BDS group that called on the government to revoke the Jewish National Fund’s charitable status.
If there’s any saving grace for Ashton, it’s that she lives in a free and democratic country that tolerates people who praise its enemies and argue against its national interests — freedoms people certainly don’t have in the dictatorships she seems so smitten with.
Of course, more important than the fringe views of a backbench MP from a party that has never held power is what our government will actually do to combat the growing threat posed by China.
The passage of last week’s Conservative motion requiring the government to make some decisions about China and this week’s statements by Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne suggesting that Canada is putting together a multinational coalition to address China’s “hostage diplomacy” leave us cautiously optimistic.
But as always, the devil will be in the details. And so far, the Liberals have never missed an opportunity to placate China, while dragging their feet and offering vague reassurances about future actions that never materialize.
Yes, that would be the Meng Wanzhou who Canada arrested in late 2018 on an extradition request issued by the United States. The one who is currently splitting her time between her two Vancouver mansions, while her legal team argues her case in Canada’s impartial court system.
Of course, reasonable Canadians could make the case that the government should step in and free Meng in order to secure the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians who have been languishing in a Chinese prison since shortly after Meng’s arrest. Indeed, many distinguished Canadians have made that argument.
But as the Post’s John Ivison noted, the event was decidedly one-sided: nowhere in its promotional material did its organizers mention the two Michaels. It was less a discussion and more a rally designed to grab media attention and allow the Chinese government to advertise the fact that two Canadian MPs were calling for Meng’s release.
At least Manly reportedly used the opportunity to say that he supported freeing the Huawei executive in order to repatriate the two Canadians being held hostage by China. But, according to a report in the Post Millennial, an online news publication, this made him the object of ridicule among the event’s participants, with audience members branding him as a “pro-imperialist doublespeaker,” and a fellow panellist accusing him of “Sinophobia.”
Ashton reportedly cancelled at the last minute, instead sending a statement read by the moderator that warned of “red-baiting dog-whistle politics” and “Trump-style Sinophobia,” while arguing that, “We need to be engaging with China … regardless of our differences,” according to tweets posted by Ian Young, a Canadian correspondent for the South China Morning Post.