This week, Canada’s Parliament voted to label China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority as “genocide.” This makes Canada the second country in the world after the United States to describe Beijing’s egregious repression as it is.
A bit of caution first before we hail this milestone moment. We need to realize Canada’s stance is not as exemplary and courageous as it appears. Canada’s bravery to rebuke Beijing is deceptive.
The sobering reality is that Canada’s so-called “liberal” government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a beloved fandom of the global left, hid from this vote.
“I abstain on behalf of the Government of Canada,” said Marc Garneau, Canada’s foreign minister, shamelessly making known the government’s position. Last week, when cornered in Parliament, Trudeau, who governs without a majority, protested that that “genocide” is an “extremely loaded” term. More study of the issue was needed, he said.
Nevertheless, this week Canada’s 229 lawmakers, including those from Trudeau’s camp, plowed ahead and passed the vote to rebuke Beijing.
“Parliament has no power tools to force the Canadian government to bring real punitive sanctions or penalties.”
For relentless and committed campaigners of Uyghur freedoms, not politicians, a first hurdle has been cleared. However, the vote is “non-binding,” meaning for now parliament has no power tools to force the Canadian government to bring real punitive sanctions or penalties on Chinese officials alleged to be carrying out the Uyghur repression.
This is awful hypocrisy considering that in October 2020, Canada´s government swiftly slapped stiff financial penalties and froze assets of 11 Belarus high-ranking government officials. The officials allegedly facilitated the rigging of Belarus presidential elections and the violent bashing of protesters that followed..
Contrast that with the Xinjiang region where Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party are accused by Amnesty International of jailing up to 1 million Uyghur Muslims in opaque “re-education camps.” And Canada casually says genocide is an “extremely loaded term.”
Too much praise also must not be lavished on Canada’s opposition Conservative lawmakers who successfully tabled this vote and ensured Beijing is censured for its despicable behavior in Xinjiang.
Canada’s Liberal prime minister’s star is in a freefall thanks to embarrassing corruption exposures and past racist blackface tropes. The Canadian Conservatives are smelling blood, going for the kill and eyeing a snap election victory, hence pretending to act saintly and push motions about the Uyghurs’ pain in Beijing’s mass camps. “The (Canadian) government needs to stand up for what’s right. There is real suffering going on in China, there’s a genocide happening,” said Erin O’Toole, the Conservative leader itching to be the next prime minister.
This is some posturing.
The last Conservative government to rule Canada is known too for tactically refraining from discussing Beijing’s appalling behavior in Hong Kong as far back as 2014. The same brush also paints former U.S. President Donald Trump, who wasted no time in July 2020 to levy human rights penalties on senior Chinese cadres connected to Uyghur ethnic cleansing. Of course, for Trump and then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, this was a calibrated act to appear tough on Beijing ahead of the November elections.
We infer this due to America´s blissful dalliance with Saudi Arabia in the face of global furor following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
There is no prize for guessing why the Canadian government abdicated itself from this vote and is at variance with its Parliament.
“When it comes to Beijing, Canada’s fear is intertwined with trade money and a rising phenomenon of hostage-taking.”
When it comes to Beijing, Canada’s fear is intertwined with trade money and a rising phenomenon of hostage-taking.
The Canadian government cannot look Xi Jinping in the eye and demand answers on the Uyghurs’ mass-jail camps, lest the Chinese Communist Party is further irritated. When in December 2018 Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, enforcing a warrant issued by the U.S., Beijing bared its teeth. Suddenly, China banned the importation of pig-feed canola seed from Canada. Overnight, a $3 billion commercial transaction was scuttled.
Canada is facing a classic Catch-22 situation. China knows this. After this week’s vote, Beijing’s ambassador to Canada dialed out ferocious threats: “The Canadian side’s attempt to contain China’s development through the Xinjiang-related motion will never succeed. Stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, stop engaging in anti-China farce, otherwise, they will end up humiliating themselves.”
Canada’s Parliament did the right thing, sidestepping its government and calling out Beijing’s pillaging of Uyghur freedoms.
Ray Mwareya is the 2016 recipient of the U.N. Correspondents Association Media Prize. He is a financial journalist whose works appear in Al Jazeera and Newsweek. Follow him on Twitter: @rmwareya.