The West Block – Episode 12, Season 9

The West Block – Episode 12, Season 9
Guests: Senator Jim Risch, Emily Lau, Minister Harjit Sajjan

Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia

Halifax, on Canada’s east coast, was settled as a security buffer against the French in the north over 200 years ago. And today, it is the site of the 11th annual Halifax International Security Summit.

Mercedes Stephenson: Hello. It’s Sunday, November 24th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

Top military, political and security leaders from around the world have gathered here in Halifax, to talk about the challenges faces NATO, a resurgent Russia, and the effect that political upheaval around the globe is having on our collective peace and security. But there’s a common theme coming up throughout these discussions: the role of China, and how the central government there has been responding to the protests in Hong Kong, human rights violations, and China’s push at the global economic table.

U.S. Senator Jim Risch is the chairman of the powerful Senate foreign relations committee and an insider at the Oval Office. I sat down with the senator late last week. Here’s that conversation.

Senator Risch, thank you so much for joining us.

U.S. Senator Jim Risch: Glad to be here. Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: You recently signed off on legislation that would suspend non-lethal crowd control measures going to China, some of the things that we’ve seen being used in the streets of Hong Kong. The Chinese government is now threatening to retaliate if President Trump signs that legislation. Are you concerned about what China might do?

U.S. Senator Jim Risch: Well we’re always concerned about what China might do, but look, the purpose of this was to get them to rethink their position and there’s two ways of handling it. They can get angry and stomp their foot and retaliate or they can step back, catch a deep breath and say I wonder what the rest of the international community thinks about this. And they will find that they’re pretty much by themselves on this.

Mercedes Stephenson: Are you willing to consider economic sanctions, because that’s one of the things that people are saying this bill would pave the way for, the possibility of diplomatic or economic sanctions.

U.S. Senator Jim Risch: Look, when America, Canada, the world, generally, is about human rights and about freedom and about democracy. Not everybody, the minority have different ideas. But if you’re going to fight for those things today, you don’t use the battlefield anymore. I mean, economic sanctions are non-kinetic ways of communicating to someone that they need to re-evaluate the conduct that they’ve involved in.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you have a sense that there’s a red line for the United States that if the Hong Kong government crosses a certain point or if the Chinese government and the mainland crosses a certain point, there would be greater action than we’ve seen so far because there’s been a lot of condemnation but not a lot of consequences.

U.S. Senator Jim Risch: I’m always afraid to—or reluctant to; I guess would be a better word—talk in term of red lines. The Chinese know what kind of conduct generates what kind of response from the world community and they know where they are on that.

Mercedes Stephenson: Canada is still deciding whether or not to allow Huawei to participate in the 5G network here. How do you think a yes, a decision to move forward and allow Huawei to participate, would affect our security relationship with the United States?

U.S. Senator Jim Risch: I would really urge the government officials that are making that decision, to go into a skiff with people from the intelligence community here in Canada, and they will hear some things that will widen their eyes as far as the dangers of getting involved with Huawei. I’m on the intelligence community. We deal with this every day. Huawei’s been an issue for us for a long time, and we’ve urged all our partners, all our allies, all the free world, to assess whether they really want to be hooking up to Huawei products. Huawei is a Chinese company and we all know that China is an authoritarian government. It is really the Communist Party and the Communist Party has access to every bit and byte of information in the country, and all things that are on people’s private phones and everything else.

Mercedes Stephenson: Turning to Turkey. You were in the room when the Turkish president showed that video to President Trump—

U.S. Senator Jim Risch: More than that, I was—

Mercedes Stephenson: What did you make of that?

U.S. Senator Jim Risch: Well, I was—the president said it was my deal is how it started because I was the one that was urging that we talk with him directly about the S-400 missiles. They could have the S-400 missiles if they wanted to, but they couldn’t have the F-35s, our F-35s, America’s, Canada’s, the other allies, NATOs F-35s. The two are not compatible to be working in the same country. As the chairman of the foreign relations committee, I have to sign off on all weapons that leave the country for another country and I told him, I am not signing off on the F-35s as long as you have S-400 missiles in your country and under your control. There have been five of them that have been made and they’re sitting in the United States ready to ship to them but they’re not leaving until the S-400s are gone. And I think when we sat just like this, I told him that’s where we were and that’s not going to change. So he’s got to make some tough decisions. And he’s a very firm individual is the kindest thing I can say about it but he’s got to make some decisions.

Mercedes Stephenson: Should Turkey still be a member of NATO?

U.S. Senator Jim Risch: If you’re going to be a member of NATO, you ought to act like a member of NATO and you ought to do the things that are in NATOs and your allies’ best interest.

Mercedes Stephenson: Canada and the U.S. both fought alongside the Kurds. They were really at the sharp end of the stick in fighting ISIS, and now, you have Turkey making these incursions, all kinds of allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses of Kurdish people on the Syrian side of the border. Has the U.S. abandoned the Kurds?

U.S. Senator Jim Risch: Well, not really. I certainly wouldn’t put it in that turn. We had a NATO ally on one side and in Turkey and Kurd allies against ISIS on the other side and the two of them were going to get into it. And there was no doubt they were going to get into it, and with what had happened with the upheaval in northern Syria, this was going to happen. A lot of people are trying to blame this on President Trump and saying that he gave the Turks a green light. I can tell you, absolutely, he did not give Turkish government a green light to go into Syria.
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