John Ivison: Trudeau’s strategy during global unrest — avoid causing offense at all costs

John Ivison: Trudeau’s strategy during global unrest — avoid causing offense at all costs
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At his morning press briefing, he was asked to comment on the tear-gassing of peaceful protestors in Washington, so that President Donald Trump could pose outside St. John’s Episcopal Church, holding a Bible.

Trudeau paused…and paused…and paused – 21 seconds in total.

It felt pre-meditated, which it was no doubt. But the point of his silent protest was made. If he had recited W.B. Yeats’s Second Coming (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”), the message could not have been more clear. In America today, to paraphrase Yeats, innocence is drowned, the best lack conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

Trudeau talked about his “horror and consternation” before turning to Canada’s own problems with systemic discrimination.

His response, and that of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland when she was asked a similar question later, was appropriate.

“As a Canadian leader, my focus is on Canada and it is on being very clear within our government, and with Canadians, that this is not a problem to which we are immune,” she said.

These are consequential days. They require cool heads to take a longer view.

Trump is the classic toxic narcissist – hypocritical, hyper-sensitive, selfish and, crucially, vindictive. Everyone knows that, so why risk his wrath and the retribution that inevitably follows?

But the president is merely “a morbid symptom of (America’s) chaos, rather than its cause,” according to a long essay on the British news site UnHerd by Aris Roussinos.

COVID has exposed the U.S. as a failed state and discredited the world order it has led, Roussinos suggested.

He said that globalization has seen Western economies unilaterally surrender their manufacturing capacity to a rival.

“Globalization was always a grand illusion of naïve liberalism, taken advantage of by illiberal, and non liberal, actors to pursue their own ends,” he wrote.

That overstates the evils of the free movement of goods, services, capital and people – a positive development that has improved the lives of billions around the world.

But there is no doubt it contributed to Trump’s rise.

America is now a house divided, unable to agree on anything. Its soldiers are on the streets of its cities, while tan-coloured Humvees last used in desert wars prowl its neighbourhoods.

The ultimate indignity was a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry that urged the U.S. to “safeguard and guarantee the legal rights of ethnic minorities”.

The Canadian government appears bemused about how to deal with the simultaneous degeneration in the America and resurgence in China

The implications of America’s dysfunction for the rest of the world are stark, as China uses the COVID crisis to expand its malign influence in Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

“It is difficult to reasonably conclude (the U.S.) possesses the societal solidarity to wage a decades-long global struggle against a near competitor,” said Roussinos.

That is bad news for Hong Kong and Taiwan in particular. According to The Times of London, the Pentagon has already concluded it could not stop an invasion of Taiwan, given that Beijing’s medium range ballistic missiles make every U.S. base or carrier group in the Indo-Pacific region vulnerable.

The Canadian government appears bemused about how to deal with the simultaneous degeneration in the America and resurgence in China. It seems to have decided to avoid causing offense at all costs.

Should Canada offer a road to citizenship for Hong Kong residents seeking to flee the territory?

British foreign secretary Dominic Raab told the U.K. Parliament on Tuesday that he has been working with other “Five Eyes” countries, including Canada, on a “burden-sharing” deal, if there is an exodus.

Yet when asked on Tuesday, Trudeau was non-committal. He said Canada welcomes people fleeing persecution and violence but made no promises about making special provision to take in Hong Kongers.

Pro=democracy protestors in Hong Kong, May 24, 2020. Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images

The Trudeau government has been equally equivocal on the status of Huawei as a supplier of gear for Canada’s new 5G data network.

On this front at least, there was some good news for the government, as Bell and Telus said they would use Nokia and Ericsson as their preferred suppliers. Rogers has already committed to Ericsson.

None of the major telcos planned to use the Chinese company for the core of their networks but Bell and Telus had said Huawei would provide equipment for the radio access networks that connect to customers. However, the government has ragged the puck on a review of cyber-security protocols. Bell and Telus decided they could not risk proceeding with Huawei, only to find the company had been proscribed.

Bell says there was no collusion with the government but Ottawa has been spared having to announce a ban that would have increased tensions with China.

The strategy of following the path of least resistance is natural – it conserves resources and avoids retaliation.

But conflict and competition still occur in nature. When crisis comes, as it will, Canada has to be ready and resolute.

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