China’s response to COVID-19 cover-ups should be to speak softly and carry a big wallet.

China has been accused of covering up the start of the COVID-19 pandemic for months, giving the virus time to spread globally.

Lu Shaye. Image: National Post

China’s response has been to come out swinging, angrily reacting in a manner not fitting a superpower. While irrational outbursts have been characteristic of the leader that other superpower, China should take the higher rhetorical ground.

China has lashed out at a number of countries critical of its handling of the crisis, including Australia. After Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent review of the spread of the virus, China’s ambassador to Australia questioned whether a country that is so “hostile” to China is the best place to send Chinese students for education, or whether Chinese consumers would want to buy Australian wine and beef, (Globe and Mail, May 1, 2020).

Canada has felt similar peevishness from China after the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies after the U.S. had requested her extradition. The shrill tone of China’s ambassador in Canada was followed by the blockage of our exports of pork and canola to China. Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to Canada was decidedly undiplomatic last May in Toronto when he harangued Canadians and said that we have a “psychological imbalance towards China’s economic and technological development” caused by “West-egotism.”

Lu Shaye is now spouting familiar rhetoric in France. He has released a series of attacks on the “malevolence” of the French media, calling them lapdogs of the U.S.: suggesting that Le Figaro was trafficking in “lies,” and “Some Westerners are starting to have no confidence in liberal democracy,” with one of his favourite themes that the French were “psychologically fragile.”

It’s all so unnecessary. To call us psychologically imbalanced is an obvious insult.  There is no need to mimic Trump’s childish outbursts to demonstrate your status as a superpower.

The mature reaction of a superpower to accusations is to calmly carry on with global dominance and be diplomatic in areas of dispute.

China’s global influence needs no psychoanalysis of critics. That rising superpower is spreading its influence globally with the Belt and Road Initiative with projected spending on infrastructure of $1 trillion in 71 countries. The initiative involves one-half the world’s population and one-quarter the global GDP.

Sure, China’s worry is that its soft power being eroded by accusations of a cover-up. But that will pass, especially if China can clean up the breeding grounds of pandemics, the disgusting “wet markets” of slaughtered wild and domestic animals.

The U.S. superpower’s foreign policy hasn’t always been characterized by a whiney leader. Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy in 1900 was: “speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” The components of the policy were the possession of a strong military, never to bluff, and to strike only when prepared to strike hard.

China’s foreign policy should be “speak softly and carry a big wallet.” China has chosen to dominate the world through the investment in infrastructure.  That policy will deliver the resources needed to keep their industrial machine rolling out the world’s goods in a peaceful, albeit colonial, way.

China should resist the inclination to feel grieved at perceived historical humiliations over the past century. Lashing out is unbecoming of a rising superpower.

 

Canada could have stopped pandemic earlier -but at what cost?

Two nations have contrasting approaches to the control of COVID-19. One uses state-control, the other appeals to the individual’s sense of citizenship.

image: Forbes

China’s approach was to seal off the source of the outbreak in Wuhan in January. It was a draconian step to halt the spread of the deadly virus but by all reports, it seems to have worked.

On January 25, 2020, a man flew to Toronto from Wuhan and became the first presumptive case of the coronavirus in Canada. Airports were such an obvious point of vulnerability. Canada could have taken similar drastic measures by sealing off airports and by doing so, halted the virus in its tracks.

However, Canadians would have never accepted such heavy-handed a tactic. Instead, passengers arriving by air were asked to self-isolate, a tactic that depended on compliance.

I can imagine how I would have felt if, after arriving back from Mexico in March, I was herded into holding facilities and subjected to forced quarantine. Instead, some nice young people handed me an information sheet and advised me to stay at home for two weeks.

Sweden is trying a different approach. That county has no lockdowns, no school closures, and no ban on going to the pub.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven is appealing to citizenship, calling this a “common sense” response to the pandemic. Rather than the heavy hand of the state in controlling the pandemic, Sweden is depending on the power of citizens do the right thing. “We who are adults need to be exactly that – adults. Not spread panic or rumours,” said Lofven. “No one is alone in this crisis, but each person has a heavy responsibility.”

Faith in Swedish common sense is admirable but it doesn’t seem to be working. While Denmark, Finland, and Norway have seen some reductions in hospitalizations pre million, Sweden is still on the rise as of April 8. Swedish public opinion regarding the tactic is divided about 50/50. The Swedish government will likely change its mind if public opinion opts for more isolation.

I suspect that the public opinion of the citizens of Wuhan matters little. The Chinese state is not moved by public opinion.

Maybe some state intervention during a health crisis might be a good thing.

While an informed citizenry is a powerful democratic tool, reliable information is becoming scarce in this fractured newsworld of “true facts.”

An ill-informed citizenry leads to a chaotic response and the spread of disease.

Take vaccinations, for example. Some parents are informed by what they are led to believe are reliable sources; sources that say vaccinations cause autism and disease. In that case, the state has stepped in some jurisdictions to impose vaccinations for the health and safety of all.

The common good has to outweigh the misguided opinions of a few.

Canada has adopted a balance of heavy-handedness and public education. We accept that schools, restaurants, and stores have been shut down. Those who disagree with the fact of the pandemic, as an expression of their liberty to think as please, face limitations of movement and social censure.

Canada falls somewhere between state-intervention and freedom of expression. Sometimes the powers of government have to be used judiciously to outweigh the whims of individualists in order to protect greater society.

 

U.S challenges Canada’s Northwest Passage

President Trump plans to send ships into our Northwest Passage without Canada’s permission. Why he would want to provoke Canada -America’s closest ally and trading partner- is a mystery. If he succeeds, not only will he strain relations with Canada further but invite unintended consequences: If the Northwest Passage is international water as he claims, the same waterway is open to his perceived enemies as well.

image: Foreign Policy News

Despite our differing opinions regarding the Northwest Passage, the U.S. and Canada came to an amicable solution in the past. The Americans maintain that the Northwest Passage is an international strait and while Canada argues it is internal waters. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney agreed to disagree: the U.S. would ask Canada’s permission to send ships through the Northwest Passage and Canada would automatically agree. In this simple agreement between friends, neither concedes their position.

That friendship has been strained lately on a number of fronts by an egotistic U.S. president. He is preparing for a “freedom of navigation operation” through the Northwest Passage without asking us.

Belligerence is a defining characteristic of Trump. Professor Robert Huebert of the University of Calgary has a blunt assessment:

“However, due to Mr. Trump’s pathological need to win, the Americans are set to disregard this [1988] solution and win the dispute (Globe and Mail, May 20, 2019).”

What Trump fails to realize is that if the U.S. gets its way and declares the Northwest Passage to be international waters, it also invites Russia and China into the Arctic. What’s good for one is good for all.

“Given that Russia is actively militarizing and China may soon be taking similar action, the United States’ move to attack Canada, its most important ally, while meeting this threat makes no sense. If the Americans are really concerned about the rise of Russian military strength in the Arctic, they need Canada to help meet the threat,” says Professor Huebert.

President Trump seems unaware of how much the U.S. relies on cooperation with Canada in the defense of North America. Bilateral defense agreements go back to 1940. Established in 1958, NORAD provides warning of threats by air or sea. Traditionally, the Deputy Commander of NORAD has been a senior Canadian Armed Forces officer. In 2008, a joint agreement provided for the military from one nation to aid the other during an emergency such as a natural disaster.

If the U.S. wants to counter the Russian threat to the Arctic, they will need Canada’s cooperation.

Meanwhile, it’s in Canada’s best interests to cooperate with China in the Arctic; even when cooperation is not mutual. Despite China’s single-minded determination to punish Canada for arresting a Huawei executive in Vancouver, Canada is siding with China over the U.S. in China’s goal to expand its influence in the Arctic.

Former parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, Andrew Leslie, said in China:

“Let’s focus on the positive that comes through international co-operation, and not so much on the sabre-rattling.”

At least China isn’t planning an invasion of Canada.

If Trump sends ships to our Northwest Passage and they fail to navigate the ice-clogged and uncharted waters, it will support Canada’s position that these waters are unique and are not a functioning international strait.

 

Recycling is broken

It seemed like a good idea at the time -throw away stuff guilt-free because others can use it. Now it looks more like wishful thinking.

image: Laura Lezza/Getty Images

Manufacturers encouraged the scheme because they wouldn’t have to deal with the mess caused by excess packaging. We, the conscientious consumers would be left to handle the flood of plastic, glass, tins and cardboard.

We rose to the challenge, earnestly sorting our trash. If each of us would just recycle, we could lick this problem. In doing so, we let manufacturers off the hook. It’s a familiar shift of responsibility to consumers. If each of us drive smaller cars and turn off the lights we can reduce global warming.

The failure of the recycling program is becoming painfully evident. Canada is faced with lecturing from thuggish Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, who is threatening war on Canada if we don’t take back tonnes of Canadian trash that have been rotting in a port near Manila.

It’s a national embarrassment. More than 100 shipping containers were sent from Canada to Manila six years ago. They were labelled plastics but they turned out to be garden-variety, stinking Canadian garbage including soiled adult diapers. Canada is in violation of international treaties that prohibit exportation of mislabelled containers.

More and more majority world countries are turning their noses up at our trash. China doesn’t want it either. In 2017, China announced that didn’t want any “foreign garbage.” Without China as a dumping ground, stuff is piling up around the world with nowhere to go except monstrous ocean gyres, landfills, and incinerators.

China correctly notes that there is no “globally recognized standard for scrap materials and recyclable materials.” It turns out that what’s one person’s trash is another person’s trash.

But we do a better job in British Columbia, right? The director of Recycle B.C., Alan Langdon, thinks so. He says that China’s prohibition will have little impact on B.C.’s operations. “We’ve actually been processing all our plastics here in B.C. for the last three-and-a-half years, therefore no real impact,” said Langdon, “The paper and cardboard that we are sending over, we right now have the cleanest material in North America, so we’re still able to meet standards and have it accepted by China.”

It sounds encouraging until you realize that for ten years Vancouver sent as much as 500,000 tonnes of garbage a year to Cache Creek. For the last two years, Vancouver sent 150,000 tonnes of municipal garbage to landfills in Washington and Oregon. In addition, 260,000 tonnes of garbage were burned annually.

We can’t claim to be trash virtuous in Kamloops. We risked being kicked out of the Recycle BC program last year because of the contaminates we put into our recycling containers. Last year, city inspectors found banned items in our bins at twice the provincial rate. Banned products included glass, soft plastics and food. The provincial rate is 10.8 per cent.

There is a way of reducing the amount of materials ending up in our trash. It’s called “polluter pays.” It works like this: tax manufacturers who insist on making unnecessary packaging, and use the money to help deal with the mess.

 

China’s low-tech threat to our elections

China doesn’t need the sneaky influence of social media to influence the outcome of our federal election when the brute force of trade sanctions work.

image: The Globe and Mail

Not to say that social media aren’t a concern. Federal Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, worries about the influence of digital platforms and their inability to protect the “digital public square.”

J. Michael Cole is more familiar with China’s trade sanctions:

“And in Taiwan, where I have lived for the past 13 years, I have witnessed first-hand Beijing’s repeated use of financial sticks-and-carrots and how that approach is used to affect electoral outcomes (Globe and Mail, April 1, 2019),” said the former analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Here’s an example of how China’s strong-arm tactics work: After the dispute between Philippines and China over territory in the South China Sea in 2012, Beijing cancelled orders of bananas and restricted Chinese tourism to the Philippines. After Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte capitulated, Beijing lifted tourism restrictions and resumed orders of commercial crops.

Canada’s feds are under pressure after China restricted the importation of our canola. Farmers blame Prime Minister Trudeau for not moving quickly enough to prevent “the biggest disaster” in living memory. Growers across the Prairies commonly devote half their acreage to Canola and sell 40 per cent of it to China.

Complaints from growers sound a lot like Western alienation.

“One thing I’m hearing more of is extreme disappointment with our government,” said Brett Halstead, a farmer in Nokomis, Sask. “It doesn’t look or feel like they’re taking it seriously … It feels like, ‘it’s only the west, it doesn’t matter.’”

China pretends that blockage of our canola is justified and has nothing to do with Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. They claim to have found contaminants in our canola.

What an odd coincidence that China has just now found contaminants after years of importation of our canola.

What would canola growers have Canada do? Arrest Chinese citizens in Canada and torture them as China has done with two Canadians living in China?  Build a canola pipeline to tidewater?

There is one easy solution -it would compromise our values but work. Canada could release Meng Wanzhou. However, not with this government, it seems.

That’s where the political interference comes in. If some opposition politician running in the federal election were to promise the release of the Huawei CFO, it could gain a lot of support from Western voters; many who already feel abandoned over lack of progress in building an oil pipeline.

It’s not just disenfranchised oil workers and canola growers who can be recruited to serve China’s will; there are thousands of Chinese-Canadians who use the app WeChat. The social media and messaging app has one billion Chinese-speaking users around the world, and has a reputation for spreading China’s propaganda.

WeChat was used by Liberal candidate Karen Wang to some effect in her efforts to mobilize Chinese-Canadians in her campaign against NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in Burnaby South.

Holding Meng Wanzhou in the face China’s bullying will take some courage. The posturing of opposition politicians in the coming months before the federal election will be revealing.

Threat from Huawei gear is overblown

All nations spy on each other and they don’t need Huawei equipment to do so.

image; Medium.com

The U.S. has targeted the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei for potential spy software installed on their equipment called “backdoors.”

This strikes some experts as highly unlikely:

“But security experts say the U.S. government is likely exaggerating that threat. Not only is the U.S. case short on specifics, they say, it glosses over the fact that the Chinese don’t need secret access to Huawei routers to infiltrate global networks that already have notoriously poor security (Globe and Mail, February 28, 2019).”

China doesn’t need Huawei’s gear to spy. Last October the state-owned telecommunications company China Telecom systematically diverted internet traffic in Canada and the United States by shunting it through its own network. The internet access points had been legally set up by China Telecom, ostensibly to improve service for its customers. Not only were the access points legal but so was the diversion of internet traffic: signed accords with the U.S. didn’t prohibit it.

China doesn’t even need the internet. Chinese scientists associated with the military have been collaborating with Canadian universities on projects that could have military applications including: drone aerodynamics at the University of British Columbia, mobile sensing and computer vision at the University of Waterloo, and satellite navigation at the University of Calgary.

Universities don’t see anything wrong with the collaborations which, after all, benefit science. Universities say it is the responsibility of the federal government to decide which foreign researchers can enter the country, not them.

The U.S. government doesn’t need Huawei’s gear to spy. Through the Patriot Act, the government has rights to access information in the cloud: data stored on U.S. servers such as Gmail, Dropbox, Google drive, iCloud drive, OneDrive, -just to name some on my computer. The Patriot Act ostensibly targets terrorist groups but could target anyone, including Canadians who use the cloud. And U.S. cloud providers are prevented from telling you if your data is being accessed. An estimated 90 per cent of Canadian internet traffic is routed via the US.

Canada has responded with privacy laws. British Columbia’s Personal Information Protection Act prevents public bodies from storing data on servers outside of Canada. That includes email servers at Canadian universities. The only email I have that is not through U.S. servers is my Thompson Rivers University account.

Canada doesn’t need doesn’t need Huawei’s gear to spy. University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist revealed that in 2011 that nine of Canada’s major telecom providers and social media sites received 1.2 million data requests from government agencies. The companies complied in 784,756 of those cases. The total number is likely higher.

Even without the Patriot Act in Canada, the Canadian government has very similar powers to those of the U.S. government. The Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) cooperates closely with its counterparts in other countries and operates with very little government oversight.

The real source of the U.S. government’s attempt to ban Huawei is not security, it’s financial and political. Huawei is successfully crowding U.S. manufacturers out of global markets and the U.S. will play the scare card if it thinks it will win.

Some uncomfortable truths emerge in the U.S.-China power struggle

In his open letter to Canadians, I thought China’s ambassador to Canada was being obtuse by wilfully ignoring Canada’s legal obligations. Now I realize that legalities are not a concern of China’s.

image: China Daily

Under our extradition treaty with the U.S., Canada had an obligation to arrest the CFO of Hauwei Technologies, Wanzhou Meng, because the U.S. Department of Justice alleged that her company violating American trade sanctions on Iran.

Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye says that we should worry about our independence:

”While Canada has continued to stress its judicial independence, did it insist on that independence when facing the United State’s unreasonable request (Globe and Mail, December 13, 2018)?”

He doesn’t seem to understand the rule of law. International extradition treaties are not about independence, they are about legal obligations.

On re-reading the ambassador’s letter, I realize that I have been naive. While Mr. Shaye overlooks what’s inconvenient to his argument (who hasn’t done that on occasion?), he grasps the raw politics involved. Ambassador Shaye continues:

“The detention of Ms. Meng is not a mere judicial case, but a premeditated political action in which the United States wields its regime power to witch-hunt a Chinese high-tech company out of political consideration.”

The use of the term “witch-hunt” in reference to Ms. Meng is unfortunate but his characterization of the politics is spot-on. U.S. President Trump admitted as much in an interview with Reuters. In reference to using Ms. Meng as a bargaining chip in his trade deal with China, he said:

“If I think it’s good for the country, if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”

President Trump has just handed Ms. Meng a gift. Her lawyers will convincingly argue that the motives of the U.S. are political, not legal. Prof. Rob Currie of Dalhousie University, an expert in extradition law, agrees. “Oh yes,” he said, “He [Trump] has given her arguments, for sure (Globe and Mail, December 12, 2018).”

Trump wants to destroy Hauwei because it threatens U.S. global dominance. Canada does not extradite anyone when the motivations are political.

Now I realize that the failure of the Chinese ambassador to mention the legality of extradition is more than an oversight. It demonstrates that China is a lawless country. China has demonstrated that uncomfortable fact by the arbitrary and unwarranted arrest of Canadians Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor.

It’s uncomfortable because it demonstrates that China would not hesitate to violate any trade agreement it had with Canada that it found inconvenient.

It’s uncomfortable, as well, to awaken to the reality that our neighbour and largest trading partner is no longer our friend; whose president would use us as a bargaining chip as well.

It’s entirely possible that Trump ordered the arrest Ms. Meng to punish Canada for our failure to prohibit Huawei from entering Canada’s construction of our new 5G network.

It’s not beyond Trump’s machinations to betray anyone on a whim -as his widening circle of former advisors and friends would surely attest.

 

Legalize heroin and save lives

Legal opiates are being use to adulterate illegal ones with tragic consequences. More than 800 British Columbians were killed in fentanyl-related overdoses last year. Many of them were ordinary Canadians you might find living next door. One of them was my nephew who died a few years ago.

Calgary Herald

Calgary Herald

They injected what they thought was heroin, or some other illegal drug. If they had injected legal heroin, of known purity and strength, they would still be alive. I’m not naive; they would still be addicted but their quest for bliss would not have ended in death.

It’s a question of harm prevention. Legalization of heroin may seem like a radical idea but not long ago so did giving drug addicts clean needles and a safe place to inject.

Like the prohibition of alcohol, the prohibition of drugs has been a dismal failure. Prohibition simply pushes the drug trade underground. When a trade is unregulated, who knows what junk users will end up taking? Drug manufacturers don’t intend to kill users: it’s bad for business to kill your customers. They just want to maximize profits.

Fentanyl is perfectly legal. It’s prescribed by doctors for controlling pain. Fentanyl is just one the opium family. It turns out that all of them are addictive.

A brief history of legal opiates is a guide to the intersection of illegal ones. Opium from Persian poppies has been used for pain control since the fourth century. Researchers discovered the active components of opium -morphine, codeine and theobain- in the 1800s. In an attempt to find a non-additive painkiller, heroin was derived from morphine. The manufacturer of heroin, Bayer, pulled it from shelves in 1913 once it was found to be addictive.

In the quest for a non-addictive pain killer, Perdue Canada filed a patent in 1992 for OxyContin, a pill that would treat pain “without unacceptable side effects (Globe and Mail, Dec. 30, 2016).” Perdue encouraged doctors to prescribe the pill and soon it was a blockbuster hit with billions of dollars being made.

But OxyContin turned out to have terrible side effects and thousands of were hooked. Canadians consume more prescription opiates on a per-capita basis than any other country in the world according to a United Nations report.

As in all opiates, those hooked on OxyContin become habituated so that they needed more pills to control pain. Purdue attempted to control the problem with the replacement OxyNEO in 2012, a tamper-resistant alternative that is difficult to crush, snort or inject. And that same year, the provinces stopped paying for both opiates.

Both factors drove addicts to the streets to find a fix. Illegal drug manufacturers care not how their clients get hooked, whether it be from the pursuit of bliss or the relief of pain.

Fentanyl is now the universal opiate. Manufactured in China in concentrated form, it can be ordered on the internet and sent through the mail. From there, it is pressed into pills to mimic OxyContin and other opiates.

Making fentanyl illegal is not the solution. Drug abuse is a medical problem, not a criminal one. All opiates should be legalized and safe doses prescribed. Education, as in tobacco and alcohol abuse, is the only solution.

Thank you, Mr. Trump, for killing the TPP

It’s a rare thing when the views of president-elect Trump and Canadian activists align as in their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump has vowed to kill the deal the day he is sworn in.

However, the source of loathing couldn’t be more different. Canada is a trading nation and we depend on the flow of goods for jobs. Trump wants to set up barriers to trade and regards such deals as “job-killing.”

Unlike the deal between Canada and Europe, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), we were on the sidelines when the TPP was negotiated. The TPP had little to do with reducing trade barriers. Law professor Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa outlines the other provisions:

“Much of the TPP focused on economic regulation, such as intellectual property enforcement, health regulation and environmental standards. Trade agreements are a poor place to negotiate these issues, which have traditionally fallen within the purview of international organizations that develop consensus-based treaties with broad stakeholder participation (Globe and Mail, November 16, 2019).”

Trump has NAFTA within his sights, too. With the North American Free Trade Agreement threatened by the belligerent president-elect, it’s vital that Canada look elsewhere. Canada already reached a deal with South Korea in 2014 and has engaged in talks with Japan, India and China regarding similar agreements.

Ongoing irritants plague all of these trade deals because corporations insist on corrupting them with their own interests under the label of “free trade.” One of those irritants is the investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) which allow companies to seek damages from governments when local regulations interfere with profit making.

Canada was stung by an ISDS under NAFTA in which a Delaware-based company proposed expansion of a quarry in the Bay of Fundy. Nova Scotia rejected it on environmental grounds. The federal government rejected it. Then a secret NAFTA tribunal approved it and we are stuck with a bill of hundreds of millions in compensation.

Tribunals aren’t a necessary part of trade agreements when you consider we have a court system. It’s not like we’re dealing with developing countries whose court systems are unknown or viewed as dodgy. CETA is a slight improvement over NAFTA. Members of the tribunal will be appointed by countries instead of corporations giving it the aspect of an international court.

One way to bypass trade deals is for unions to negotiate international agreements that are not susceptible to tribunals. Canadian auto unions have recently bargained deals with the big 3 auto manufacturers worth $1.6 billion. Jim Stanford, former economist for the Canadian Auto Workers and Unifor, and now professor McMaster University is thrilled with the deal which acknowledges superior productivity in Canada:

“Most Canadian auto plants operate at or near full capacity. Combined with advanced technology and work organization, that gives the Canadian industry an important productivity advantage. Output per worker is 10 per cent to 15 per cent higher than it is in the United States (November 21, 2016).”

Trade deals have been muddied by the addition of non-trade provisions, although I doubt that’s what motivates Trump.