The West Block – Episode 51, Season 8

The West Block – Episode 51, Season 8
Mercedes Stephenson: On this Sunday, leaders from the G7 industrial nations meet in France. High on their agenda: What to do about China. Is it time for a global diplomatic approach?

Then, as protests in Hong Kong intensify and with the Chinese military on alert, Beijing detains an employee of the British Consulate. Why? The British High Commissioner is here with more on that, and to explain why the U.K. stripped Jihadi Jack of his citizenship, making him Canada’s problem.

And, threats, bullying and intimidation: Students on campuses across Canada say they are subject to surveillance and intimidation if they speak out against China. We’ll find out who is being targeted and why.

It is Sunday, August 25th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

As the trade war between China and the U.S. heats up with China’s recent announcement of a new $75 billion tariff on U.S. goods, the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong has suspended work travel to China for local staff. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Ottawa just a few days ago and he assured Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the American government will continue to pressure China to release two Canadians who have been detained for more than eight months now.

So, what exactly is the U.S. doing to help free Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavour amid its own economic battle with China?

Joining me now is Morgan Ortagus, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State. Welcome to the show, Morgan.

Morgan Ortagus: Thank you for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: Always a pleasure when we get a chance to speak to Americans about Canada-U.S. relations, and of course, the secretary of state was here in Ottawa speaking with our prime minister just a couple of days ago. He was reassuring Canadians that China and the issue of the two detained Canadians is at the top of the agenda for the American government. Can you tell us exactly what the United States is doing to try to put pressure on China to see those Canadians released?

Morgan Ortagus: So, first of all, I was with the secretary in Ottawa. It was lovely to be back. I love being in Canada. We have such a close relationship with the Canadians on not just political but on economic areas, on military areas. It’s one of the things that I always glean from our meetings with the secretary is meeting with the foreign minister and with the prime minister, of course, is just the number of areas around the world in which—that we work together. What a special and close relationship that it truly is.

As it relates to China, I think the secretary was very clear that this is an incredibly important topic, because what we’re talking about as it relates to the two detained Canadians is the rule of law. And this has ramifications, not just for Canada, but this has ramifications for countries around the world. Clearly, the Chinese see an opportunity when they can find it, to arbitrary detain people, to beat up on countries that they may perceive to be weaker, maybe in their estimate. And so what’s incredibly important for America is that we’re standing up for our allies, that we’re standing up for our friends, but most importantly that we’re standing up for international norms and for the rule of law, and that’s something that we fight for every day and will continue to do so.

Mercedes Stephenson: Does that extend, Morgan, beyond just words, beyond just raising it? Does there have to be a consequence for China to deter them from doing this kind of thing now and in the future?

Mercedes Stephenson: Morgan, one of the things that the United States has been calling for is for countries that have had foreign fighters fighting with ISIS to repatriate them and bring them home. One of the challenges we’ve had with that in Canada is the ability to prosecute them. Our justice system requires a certain level of evidence that hasn’t been there in some cases, and as a result, we’ve had literally dozens of these fighters who allegedly were involved with ISIS, come home and not face charges. One, when he faced charges, only faced four months in jail. Has the United States considered that bringing these people back to western countries could pose a national security risk if they can’t be prosecuted?

Morgan Ortagus: We certainly have, but we would also say that the situation is also clearly untenable and that’s why individual countries are going to have to deal with this. We’ve brought a number of these people back to the United States, where they’re in our judicial system being prosecuted as well. And so no matter what country it is, whether it’s Canada or whether it’s Europeans, wishing this problem away or keeping them where they are now is not something that can be sustainable for the long run and so that’s why we’re encouraging countries to think about this. This is one of those very hard problems that’s not going away and not dealing with it is not going to stop the issue from remaining.

Mercedes Stephenson: And certainly a topic of hot debate here in Canada, but I imagine one of the concerns with the United States might be that if these ISIS fighters are brought home to Canada and our justice system is not able to effectively prosecute them, are you worried they could cross the border into the United States?

Morgan Ortagus: Well that’s one of the reasons why one of the number one priorities of this president is border security, of course. But I also say, you know, I can’t speak to your judicial system and how your government is going to deal with this issue. But I would say that every government, including ours are going to have to continue to find out ways to prosecute these people. We’re going to have to work with our European allies. I think it’s going to take all nations coming together to find the appropriate solutions. But I think that the president and the secretary have clearly laid out that they don’t think that the status quo is something that can continue.

Mercedes Stephenson: Turning to Venezuela, a place where Canada and the United States have had similar policies in terms of concern and recognizing the Opposition becoming the official government. Is there a red line there for the United States? I know that President Trump has said that all options remain on the table. At what point does the current containment policy become insufficient and is there a willingness to go beyond that into military intervention?

Morgan Ortagus: Well, listen, I won’t speak or preview what options the president will or will not take. He has said that all options are on the table and so therefore I would take him at his word. But I’d say the thing that we are focused here at the state department and what Secretary Pompeo speaks with your foreign minister about quite regularly is how we restore democracy to Venezuela. That’s what is incredibly important here and that we have to remember is that the Venezuelan people have had their democracy stolen from them. You have a former illegitimate person, Maduro, who is still claiming some remnants of power and we will use all forces that we have at our disposal to solve this peacefully. That is the goal of the state department to return democracy to Venezuela and to solve this peacefully. And then the president can look at a variety options that he may have. And of course, one of the things that I’m very encouraged by is the support of interim President Juan Guaido what he’s received from the Lima group, from OAS, from Canada, from the United States and that regional support, and really that global support from nations around the world for interim President Juan Guaido is so important, because that is the first step to towards real and meaningful elections in to restoring democracy in Venezuela and nothing is more important than that goal.

Mercedes Stephenson: Morgan, thank you very much for joining us today.

Up next, as protests in Hong Kong grow in a month’s long standoff, a British consular employee is detained in China. We’ll get the latest from the British High Commissioner.


Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Last week, an employee for the British Consulate in Hong Kong was detained in China. The U.K. announced its support for Canada last December, shortly after two Canadian citizens were suddenly detained by Beijing. All of this comes as Britain announces it is stripping Jack Letts, better known to many at home as Jihadi Jack of his British citizenship for moving to Syria and joining ISIS, making him now Canada’s problem, since Jihadi Jack and dual citizenship, and wants to come here to Canada now instead—lots to discuss.

Joining me now to do that is Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque, the British High Commissioner to Canada. Welcome to the show, High Commissioner.

High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque: Thank you for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s start with Jihadi Jack because a lot of Canadians reacted to this. He’s someone who has barely been to Canada. He grew up in Britain and yet the British government has decided to strip him of his citizenship. Why did your government take that decision?

High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque: They took the decision after a lot of careful thought and on evidence that came from a variety of sources, which led them to the conclusion that he was a threat to national security. This is a provision which is available to the British government in these circumstances and that is why they have done it.

Mercedes Stephenson: You can imagine if he’s a threat to national security why the Canadian government is reacting the way that they are now that he falls into Canada’s hands. Did you warn the Canadians this was coming because they seemed fairly upset when the news came out?

Mercedes Stephenson: There was a serious debate here in Canada about whether or not to strip people who had dual or multiple citizenship’s of it during the last election. The Conservatives wanted to be able to do that. The Liberals were against it. Obviously, they won government, so Canada doesn’t strip citizenship. Some have said it creates a dangerous precedent if you start taking people’s citizenship away. What do you make of that argument?

High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque: I think it is a very, very tough measure to take and I think it’s only taken in circumstances where we are absolutely clear of the danger to the U.K. and also where the person has another citizenship. I think there are understandable concerns about it, but I think in this case, the government’s been very clear about why it was done to Jack Letts.

Mercedes Stephenson: I want to change gears and take a look at what’s happening in Hong Kong, and of course, the British consular employees who’s been detained in China. The Chinese are saying officially that it was for solicitation of prostitution. Do you believe that to be the reason why he was detained?

High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque: I think it’s very difficult to know why he’s being detained, partly because we’ve not had any contact with him since he was detained by the Chinese. They’ve now said they’re going to detain him for 15 days. They have said why they are doing that, and I think without speaking to him it’s very difficult for us to know exactly what has happened and why. But we are extremely concerned about his detention and we have spoken to the Chinese authorities in Beijing and the authorities in Hong Kong, and the foreign secretary will undoubtedly be talking about this with his counterparts when he’s in Biarritz over the weekend.

Mercedes Stephenson: Is it possible that this is connected to Britain’s support for Canada and the case of the two Canadians citizens who’ve been detained?

High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque: I don’t think you can link it directly, but I think it is part of a wider pattern of behaviour and I think it’s much more likely that in this case it is connected with what’s been happened in Hong Kong with the pro-democracy protests and the protests which have been taking place over the last few months.

Mercedes Stephenson: Obviously, the British have a particular interest in Hong Kong, a long history there. Those protests have been growing more dramatic. They’ve been growing in the number of clashes with police forces. There’s reports that there’s satellite imagery that shows the Chinese military very close by. How serious do you think that situation is? Because in the past, we’ve seen clashes but then it’s gone quiet fairly quickly. That’s not the case here. We’re into almost three months of these protests.

High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque: I think it is a very, very tense situation and it is one which we are obviously looking at very carefully, partly because there are so many British citizens living in Hong Kong and there are many people with Canadian passports too, but also because we have an international treaty that we signed with China which runs until 2047 and we are counting on China to abide by the provisions of that agreement and to allow peaceful protests, which is allowed under local law, and to allow the Hong Kong authorities to sort out the situation themselves and in a peaceful way. I mean the way to resolve this is through dialogue. It’s not through violence or threats of violence.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that there’s a red line here for when the international community becomes more direct in their confrontation with China? You have the citizen from Hong Kong detained. You have the Canadian citizens who have been detained. You have the military there. You have, as you were saying, they’re violating the agreement that they made and yet there seems to be no real consequence for any of that.

High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque: I think we have to make sure that whatever we do does not inflame the situation further. So I think we have to be very diplomatic, obviously, but also very measured in our responses and we don’t make things worse. But I think at the same time, we need to make it very clear when we are deeply concerned about what’s been happening and to make it very clear, too, that if there are—if there’s a more violent reaction from whoever to what’s been going on, then there will be consequences.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well and there has been concern there could be another Tiananmen Square.

High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque: I think that’s one of the things that people have mentioned. I don’t believe that the Chinese government is ready to do that because they have signed up to an agreement. But I think we all have to bear in mind that things can change very quickly.

Mercedes Stephenson: How closely are you working with your Canadian counterparts on this China file right now? Not just with Hong Kong but also with the detention of citizens.

High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque: As closely as we possibly can. There are regular meetings which look at both our communities in Hong Kong, but also the political situation. It was on the table when the foreign secretary met Chrystia Freeland in Toronto two weeks ago, and I know it’s right at the top of the list of things that the prime minister will be talking to your prime minister about in Biarritz over the weekend.

Mercedes Stephenson: What more do you think the global community can do on this file?

High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque: I think it’s very difficult to sort of hypothesize about things that might happen in the future, but I think the most important thing is to maintain a united front and not allow anybody to sort of divide us and spit us up. So saying the same thing consistently and presenting a united front in the face of these provocations is really, really important.

Mercedes Stephenson: High Commissioner, thank you so much for joining us.

High Commissioner Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, we’ll hear from a student in Toronto who has been the victim of threats and bullying because of her stance on China.


[Protestors chanting]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. In cities across Canada last weekend, supporters for democracy in Hong Kong found themselves facing off against those who support Beijing.

China’s influence around the globe is increasing and here in Canada, university campuses across the country have seen a rise in students being targeted if they speak out against Chinese policies. Who is targeting these students and is the Canadian government doing enough to protect them on campus?

Joining me now from Toronto is Chemi Lhamo. Chemi, thank you so much for joining us on the show.

Chemi Lhamo: [00:17:16] of course.

Mercedes Stephenson: Chemi, earlier this year you ran for student council president at the University of Toronto. Can you walk us through what happened when you started to campaign?

Chemi Lhamo: So while I was a candidate, somehow the international Chinese community came to find out that I was running for the elections, but to be specific it was more like a Tibetan running for the campaign. And so when they found out, they immediately released a petition online against me. In addition to that, they took it on social media and they started giving me comments in the thousands from race threats to death threats, not only to me but my family members. And soon I realized that, you know, these threats weren’t just against me. There was a pattern. There was a pattern in these sorts of comments. Everything was talking about Tibet and China. So then I even posted a comment or Instagram story saying, “Is this hate from China?” And then a person DM’d me and said, “No. I’m in Toronto.” So then I knew that, you know, this is something bigger than just me and my elections. Soon that, you know, just escalated to the thousands and thousands and then now escalated to a police case and I’ve been receiving messages of hate but also love and support from all across the world since then.

Mercedes Stephenson: So you believe this is because you’re of Tibetan origin. Do you believe that the government in Beijing is behind the comments and the threats that you’ve received?

Chemi Lhamo: Yes, I do. It is my opinion. I do not have proof for it, but during the same time, McMaster University there was an incident. In addition to that, we have a lot of other proof, like right here in Toronto there was the Confucius Institute. In many universities and academic institutions across North America and the world, there’s Confucius Institutes that have been proven to have relationship with the Chinese government to sell out their propaganda.

Mercedes Stephenson: How widespread to you think this phenomenon is of Chinese government trying to intimidate people who are here in Canada who are students on university campuses if they’re representing interest that the Chinese state does not support?

Chemi Lhamo: It’s alive and well and it’s creeping on us in every corner. A prime example is my case. But not only that, many years ago a student at Brock University, was not allowed to bring her Tibetan flag to her international student festival. And then again, we had emails that said that—it went back to the Confucius Institute that happened to be a funder at that academic institution. So it is here, but not only at a sort of individual level but even at a larger global scale you see that. Canada just recently released a joint statement with the European Union calling for the freedom of assembly in Hong Kong and you saw the Chinese Embassy actually give out a warning to Canada to not medal into their internal affairs.

Mercedes Stephenson: There was also a former Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chen. He was in fact, the trade minister for Ontario under the Liberal government. He appeared at one of these pro-Beijing rallies. Are you concerned that there are people who’ve been elected by Canadians to represent them here who may in fact be being influenced by Beijing? And I’m curious to know what your reaction is to his appearance at that rally.

Chemi Lhamo: I’m definitely concerned because these are the folks that are actually, you know, implementing the propaganda and actually amplifying the propaganda that the Chinese state is trying to control. A prime example is, you know, in Canada there was another association, a Tibetan association that was created, calling itself the Tibetan Association of Ontario. But we’re the Tibetan’s here in Ontario and it turns out the Chinese officials and MPPs were actually present at the celebration recognizing this sort of fake Tibetan organization that didn’t have as many Tibetans as the real Tibetan community.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you feel safe? Or do you feel that you’re still being threatened at this time?

Chemi Lhamo: Time to time I do get messages on my social medial, still. I was recommended by the police to turn off my social media and go sort of silent, but how can I do that when I’m the student union president? So duty calls and I’m here at work every day 9 to 5. After this, I’ll be there. And physically? No, I don’t feel safe. But emotionally and mentally, China can’t harm me. But no one can when your mind is set.

Mercedes Stephenson: But physically, you think there may be a threat to you?

Chemi Lhamo: Yes. So some of the threats that I’ve received are, “If I see you, I’ll punch you.” “The bullet that’s made for you is already made in China.” And then there are also rape threats, and then things like, “Your mother’s dead.” And so these comments have already been given to me directly and it’s been on my social media. It still probably is and these are actually not just anonymous trolls, some of them are actually students from my own university.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that Canadian universities and Canadian police and the Canadian government are doing enough to deal with the situation?

Chemi Lhamo: No, I don’t think so. I think there is so much more that we can do. On an individual basis, everyone can raise awareness and be part of the movement #IforHongKong. Or, within the institutions, I think they can make a bigger stance. Chinese international students are one of the biggest cash cows for universities and academic institutions. It’s time that we make a stance and let them know that, you know, their human rights record does not reflect international standards and that’s why we will have sanctions being placed to ensure that this common relationship is continued.
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