Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Trudeau shows some maturity in response to Poilievre's taunts

So, Canada finally got around to expelling Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei for his part in the harassment and intimidation of Conservative MP Michael Chong a couple years ago. It's a tit-for-tat move, and you might be tempted to see it as childish and immature, but the point needed to be made in a clear and unambiguous way: China might be a bully, but it can't just interfere in the politics of sovereign countries with impunity. 

For its part, China released a statement claiming that "China never interferes in other countries' internal affairs" (yeah, right!), and that Canada can expect "resolute and strong reactions" if it continues down this path, a relatively muted response by Chinese standards.

Whether or not you buy Justin Trudeau's claims that he didn't know about China's threats to Chong until the Globe and Mail newspaper blew this all up recently, as least he and his team have not acted precipitately and without a full scrutiny of the all complex geopolitical considerations that might be involved. 

Imagine if Pierre Poilievre had been in charge. Outrage is Poilievre default mode and, although he mainly does it to complain about anything that Trudeau does and says - or doesn't do and say - in order to score cheap political points while in opposition, he appears to value action (any action) over thought (any thought). But shooting from the hip is not necessarily a very desirable quality in a politician (cf. Donald Trump).

Make no mistake, calling a senior Chinese diplomat "persona non grata" is a huge slap in the face for China, and it will not go unpunished. Canada can expect some serious (and probably entirely disproportionate) blowback from China in the next few days or weeks, however well-deserved the slap may have been. 

For better or worse, China is Canada's No. 2 trade partner, with $100 billion or so hanging on the bilateral trade relationship every year. But Canada is only China's 18th largest trading partner, so they have much less skin in the game. Poking the dragon is a dangerous game, despite Poilievre's bluster.

That is the difference between being in opposition and being in power. Poilievre's can say all sorts of principled and impressive-sounding things as opposition leader. But, once in power, politicians have to take responsibility for their actions, and to take into account their potential repercussions on the average citizens they represent. Realpolitik is a real thing.

In my opinion, a short delay for sober thought does not show Trudeau as an indecisive ditherer. Rather it shows a sense of responsibility and maturity, in sharp relief against Poilievre's bombast and bluster.


As it turns out, China's response to the Canada's expulsion of its diplomat was swift but unexpectedly mild, at least thus far: a Canadian diplomat of a similar level of seniority was expelled from Shanghai.

But the point is, no-one (including Pierre Poilievre) had any idea what their response would be. It could have been a major trade war, or the arbitrary incarceration of a Canadian citizen(s). You just don't know with China. Hence, it's always the right thing to do to tread softly and carefully, and not go flying in with guns blazing. Their guns are bigger than ours, should they choose to use them.

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