There are many pressing matters confronting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his newly re-elected minority government, but at least one big looming decision just got a whole lot easier for him.
It has been rather obvious all along that Canada should exclude Chinese tech giant Huawei from having any involvement in establishing a national 5G network. After the events of the past week or so, that decision has become not only more obvious but also a lot less complicated.
Put simply, Canada needs to say “no” to Huawei. The case for that has now been strengthened even further by the plea deal between the U.S. Department of Justice and Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. And with the long overdue return to Canada of the two Michaels, the fear that a rejection of Huawei would have further endangered the two is no longer a factor.
In his first press conference since the election, Trudeau announced that a decision on Huawei would be made “within the coming weeks.” He also noted that Canadian telecom companies are either “remov(ing) Huawei from their networks” or “moving forward in ways that don’t involve (Huawei).” This seems to hint at which way the government is leaning.
Canada is the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that has not officially denied Huawei access to its 5G network. Given that our partners may already have doubts about how seriously we’re taking the threat from China, giving the green light to Huawei would only confirm those fears and leave Canada further isolated.
This isn’t just about Canada doing something that our allies would prefer to see us do, but rather about doing something important to protect Canada’s national security interests. We can go all the way back to the demise of Canadian tech giant Nortel to find reasons to be apprehensive about China, and by extension, Huawei. We’re also privy to the very same sort of information and intelligence that has guided our allies to exclude Huawei from their 5G networks.
The case of Meng Wanzhou — the Huawei CFO who is also the daughter of the company’s founder — illustrates just how strategically important Huawei is to the Chinese government. That, in turn, helps to illustrate the point about how linked Huawei is to the Chinese government — a very important factor in assessing national security risks around 5G technology.
When Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou and commenced the process of extraditing her to the United States to face bank and wire fraud charges, the Chinese reacted angrily. Shortly after, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested on trumped-up charges. It was clear that China was retaliating and engaging in hostage diplomacy by using the two Michaels to pressure us to released Meng.
Ultimately, Meng agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement and was returned to China. The two Michaels were then released and sent back to Canada.
The threat of Huawei 5G (Aug. 25, 2020)
But we shouldn’t fail to take notice of what Meng’s agreement actually concedes. There is an acknowledgement here of the accuracy of what the U.S. Department of Justice was alleging in the first place. Under the deal, Meng has accepted “responsibility for her principal role in perpetrating a scheme to defraud a global financial institution.”
U.S. charges are still pending, though, against Huawei the company. Meng’s admissions very much help bolster the Americans’ case. Should Huawei be convicted of fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy, then there is no longer any shred of a case for allowing them into Canada’s 5G network.
It’s certainly possible that the captivity of the two Michaels left Canada’s government somewhat frozen when it came to delicate matters pertaining to China. Concern for the well-being of Canadian citizens is understandable, but we also don’t want to reward and encourage hostage diplomacy.
With the two Michaels now safely returned to Canada, there’s no longer an excuse for inaction. And with the considerable case against Huawei’s involvement in our 5G networks, there’s no excuse for anything but a rejection.
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