Considered opinion: China syndromeCanada must not be naive when dealing with China’s authoritarian regime

By Hugh Segal

Published 7 March 2019

A new book on Canada-China relations offers lessons for the United States. The book “is in many ways a primer on the central challenge of our era – the question of how democracies address the scope and depth of an authoritarian wave now picking up momentum,” writes Hugh Segal, a Canadian foreign policy expert. “Our engagement with China must set aside the temptations of presuming fair minded universal intent on the part of Chinese state-controlled instruments, economic, diplomatic or military. We must be more focused on the protection of our own security and freedoms from Chinese subversion. Countries that wish access to our resources, technology and investment on normative terms do not get to launch cyberattacks against us, from military and intelligence units controlled by the state.”

Warnings swirl around Canada's relations with China // Source:

The importance of Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada, Jonathan Manthorpe’s new best-selling book, a meticulous and well-researched highly readable history of decades of Canada-China relations, goes far beyond what it reveals of Chinese tactics and Canadian government naivety under successive administrations.

Hugh Segal writes that the book “is in many ways a primer on the central challenge of our era – the question of how democracies address the scope and depth of an authoritarian wave now picking up momentum.”

Segal adds: “Written and researched long before the present trade, high tech and extradition challenge between Canada and China, its timely appearance underlines the new dynamic democracies face when authoritarian powers, however previously benign, embark on strategies to expand their reach and sway beyond their own borders, especially when doing so without being respectful of international law or borders.”

Segal is Principal of Massey College, distinguished fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and at the Queen’s school of Policy Studies. He is a former Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Segal continues:

How we feel about China’s internal lack of due process, presumption of innocence, press freedom or tolerance for religious or ethnic diversity, is important, but not acutely relevant. The Communist Party of China, its presumption of sovereignty not only at home, but also over ethnic Chinese worldwide, is not about to relinquish or dilute its central and presumptive power and control. It certainly won’t do this as a result of peaceful entreaties from middle powers, however respectful or well-meaning.

As the massacre of students in Tiananmen Square and the persecutions of Tibetans and Uyghurs illustrate, control and authority is too central to Chinese Communist core doctrine to be softened to placate Western principles of freedom of assembly, expression or religion, or respect for diversity. And, while the People’s Republic of China has every right to manage its internal affairs without interference, we also have the right to pursue our own national interest without undue Chinese influence.

China’s impressive economic success, lifting millions of its own people out of adverse poverty, is to the credit of many parts of their economic and industrial policy.