A leading party in Monday’s Canadian election has caught the attention of authorities in Beijing with pledges to take a much tougher line on China if elected.
The platform of the opposition Conservative Party, whose leader Erin O’Toole is contending to become prime minister in the Sept. 20 election, mentions the Chinese government 31 times -- none of them favorably.
That contrast with the platform of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberal Party, which mentions China only once in spite of simmering tensions over the detention of a high-profile Chinese executive in Vancouver and China’s arrests of two Canadians.
The Conservatives are promising to withdraw from the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Bank, reduce any of Canada’s dependence on China, and ban Chinese technology company Huawei from having anything to do with Canadian 5G networks.
Promising to stand up to the Communist government of China, the Conservative platform also levels criticism at Chinese policy on matters of trade, the environment, territorial Arctic claims and relations with Taiwan.
China’s ambassador to Canada has been quoted as saying Beijing is opposed to the “smearing” of China. Chinese state media have said if the Conservatives were to form a government, implementing the platform would “invite counterstrikes.”
Lynette Ong, a political scientist who specializes in China at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, said the Conservatives – popularly known as Tories – are attempting to capitalize on the current hostile opinion toward China.
However, she said, the reaction from the Chinese government is miscalculated.
“I think the purpose is trying to appeal to a certain segment of Canadian voters trying to get them to not vote for the Tories,” she said. “But I'm not sure whether Canadian voters will actually buy into that sort of rhetoric.”
Stewart Prest, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, said the Conservatives took the same approach years ago, but when they actually formed a government after a previous election, they watered down their criticisms of China.
He expects the Conservatives, if elected this time, to do the same thing.
“These kinds of messages are, are meant to project a kind of strength into to show that the perhaps they would be more principled in their approach to foreign policy than the Liberals that they're trying to draw contrast with,” he said.
Paul Evans, of the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, said this is a way for the Conservatives to put Canada’s relations with China into the election. He believes if elected, they would try to implement their platform.
“So this is not just wishful thinking out there,” he said. “There's a there's a lot of thought that has gone into it. And a lot of calculation about the right way to approach a more repressive and assertive China.”
Evans said the obvious preference for the Chinese government would be for the Liberals and Trudeau to be reelected. He echoed Ong’s thoughts that comments against the Conservatives may not work in their favor.
Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, has been forced for almost two years to stay in Vancouver while Canadian courts consider a U.S. request for her extradition to the United States. Shortly after her arrest at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1, 2018, two Canadians were arrested in China on allegations of spying. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, known as “the two Michaels,” are still in Chinese custody.
The Canadian election is Monday, although with many people casting votes in advance and by mail, the final result might not be immediately known.