Trudeau govt didn’t want to cancel military drill with China, reveal secret papers

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByHT Correspondent
Dec 10, 2020 04:55 PM IST

Secret Canadian documents reveal that the government was concerned thatChina could interpret cancellation of the military engagement as a retaliatory move related to the Meng Wanzhou case.

An aide of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had opposed a move by the Canadian military last year to cancel training with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) due to security concerns, according to a media report.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government released secret documents that indicate that Ottawa was uncomfortable with the military’s decision to cancel a military drill with China’s PLA.(AP)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government released secret documents that indicate that Ottawa was uncomfortable with the military’s decision to cancel a military drill with China’s PLA.(AP)

Citing secret government documents, The Globe and Mail newspaper reported on Wednesday that Canada’s global affairs department pushed back against a decision by Gen Jonathan Vance, Chief of Defence Staff, to cut interactions with the PLA.

Officials at the global affairs department, including then deputy minister of foreign affairs Ian Shugart, were alarmed that Vance had cancelled winter military exercises with the PLA in 2019. Shugart is now clerk of the Privy Council, Canada’s top bureaucrat, who reports directly to Trudeau.

The newspaper’s report came against the backdrop of growing global concern over China’s increasingly assertive and aggressive actions, including the standoff with India along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Canada is also locked in a diplomatic spat with India over Trudeau’s comments supporting the farmers’ protest in India, which the external affairs ministry has described as interference in the country’s internal affairs.

The secret Canadian documents suggested that the cutting back of interactions with the PLA could be seen by Beijing as reprisal for the arbitrary arrest of two Canadians.

“Should Canada make any significant reductions in its military engagement with China, China will likely read this as a retaliatory move related to the Meng Wanzhou case,” the daily cited a February 2019 memo as saying. The memo was sent to Shugart, outlining the case for a letter he would be sending to Jody Thomas, then deputy minister of national defence.

The memo described the move as a decision taken “unilaterally” by the Canadian military, apparently meaning the armed forces did not consult global affairs.

“Unilateral decisions to postpone and/or cancel previously agreed DND/CAF cooperation with the PLA risk being interpreted by China or others in an unintended (and unhelpful) way. [This] could also damage Canada’s long-term defence and security relationship with China,” the memo said.

Shugart subsequently asked the defence department to check with global affairs before cancelling or postponing any future engagements with the PLA.

The US too had raised concerns about joint military exercises that could benefit the PLA, according to the secret documents.

An unnamed senior Canadian official was quoted by The Globe as saying that Vance, on the urging of the US, cancelled winter exercises with the PLA and later all military interactions.

The February 2019 memo was written months after Canada-China ties went into a tailspin after Beijing locked up two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, in apparent retribution for Ottawa’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese tech firm Huawei. Canada had arrested her following a US extradition request.

The documents were released through access-to-information law, though the global affairs department said they hadn’t been adequately censored before release owing to human error.

Michael Chong, the foreign affairs critic of the opposition Conservative Party, and James Bezan, the defence critic, said the documents showed a “stunning lack of leadership” from Trudeau and the Liberal government.

“Clearly, the Prime Minister and Liberal ministers are more concerned about how Beijing might react than in defending Canadian interests. The Liberal government has become so timid that it can’t even say no to Chinese soldiers arriving on our territory,” they said in a statement.

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