The door opened, and Meng Wanzhou got off her chartered Air China jet and waved to the crowd. She was wearing a red dress, its color matching the flag painted on the plane’s fuselage to her left – the flag of the People’s Republic of China.
Ms. Meng’s sudden departure from Vancouver, and the simultaneous release of two Michaels from China, were a prisoner swap. To anyone who remembers the Cold War, the lot was familiar. Yet if you unfreeze a Cold Warrior, he’ll find a lot of ground beneath the story that is not only unfamiliar, but incomprehensible.
To Ms. Meng’s left, as she stood at the top of the plane’s stairs, was the national emblem of China. But to her right was a large, stylized silver star, larger than the gold star on the Chinese flag, bearing the words “Star Alliance”—the international trade partnership that includes both Air China and Air Canada.
During the Cold War era, Aeroflot was not code-sharing flights with Western airlines, or providing frequent flyer miles to each other’s preferred customers. Unlike the Soviet Union, which operated an autocratic economic system, nearly every single one of the Chinese state carrier’s airliners is an Airbus or Boeing, including the Boeing 777 that returned Ms. Meng to China. It was made in the United States, with parts around the world including China.
For the past three years, Ms. Meng has been living in one of her multimillion-dollar Vancouver homes, sometimes seen on court or traveling about town in a GMC SUV wearing European designer clothes and shoes. She is a senior executive of Huawei, which was for a time the main sponsor Hockey Night in Canada.
Back in 1972, the Chelyabinsk Tractor Factory No. 7 was not paying Foster Hewitt’s salary. The company’s directors were not speculating in West Coast real estate. The daughters of the party elite did not wear Prada.
In the years to come, the challenge for Canada will be to navigate it all. This is not a new Cold War. But it is also not unlike the Cold War, which would be a warm peace.
Canada and China, and the West and China, are in competition and conflict. They are also closely related. Some of them interdependence is of mutual benefit. But some part of it has been taken up by China for its own benefit. That’s what it was to take Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor hostage.
The Cold War was at least easy to understand. The lines were clear, and didn’t cross them too much. There was no supply chain moving back and forth across the borders. There were fewer tourists. There was actually an iron curtain between the two worlds.
In the first era of globalization, the present is less like the Cold War and more like the world of more than a century ago. The borders were largely open, and international trade, travel and immigration were booming. The King of Canada and the Kaiser of Germany were first cousins, more closely related to economics and personal relations in the world of the Great Powers.
It was widely believed that increasing interdependence would make violent conflict between great powers pointless or even impossible. Of course, that didn’t happen.
Before Beijing took two Canadians hostage, both Ottawa and Bay Street were blinded by dollar signs. It was not in anyone’s economic interest to understand that China is not Denmark.
But now the eyes are open all over the world. A primary objective of Canada’s foreign policy should be to keep them that way.
Only a few years ago, the Trudeau government aimed at closer economic integration with China. It is now clear that Canada’s foreign policy must lean in the opposite direction, so that the growth of trade and investment relations with China is not maximized, as Beijing seeks, but is minimized to safeguard Canada’s independence. .
Canada should seek an economic relationship with China that is, as much as possible, regulated through multilateral fora, and that does not aim to make China more trade-dependent than absolutely necessary. Ties with Japan, South Korea, India and others must be strengthened to limit the relative size of the China connection.
China is not Canada’s cold war enemy. Nor is it a gentle and peaceful friend. Welcome to the post-Cold War world.
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