Ever since the US defence and security machine turned its focus on rapidly growing Chinese influence and power around the world, it was clear that the days of post-war world order of inclusive multilateralism led by the United States are over. China’s persistence policy of using its trade dollars for projection of its military might and to buy strategic influence around the world was never going to have a smooth sailing. And right now, the world, that got hooked up on comparative peace and prosperity and loved this comfort zone, is witnessing the early shockwaves of returning conflict.
Unfortunately, Canada that happens to be a peaceful neighbour of the principal actor, got into the cross-fire when the first rounds are being shot. The arrest of Huwaui supremo Meng Wonzhou at a Canadian airport in compliance with an extradition order issued by a US judge leaves this tranquil northern nation little choice but to side with its powerful and log-time neighbour and friend. After all Canada fought the war that laid the foundation of this new order and later played a leading role in advancing and preserving this order. But at the same time this nation of just 350 million people is worried and wary that would she have Washington’s back if push comes to shove and what if it doesn’t get the full and timely support or just a half-hearted show of solidarity.
China’s swift and aggressive reaction to Meng’s arrest seems to promise that the fight could be an ugly and drawn out affair. The Chinese operatives picked up two Canadians living there, one of them is a former diplomat, demonstrating that there would be no holds barred. President Trump’s tweet implicitly linking Meng’s arrest to trade negotiations has eroded the moral authority that is absolutely vital to have in international conflicts. Now there will be capitals and publics who would see the issue in the light of politics and not in the context of rule of law and human rights. Though Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland sought to separate the politics and law, the damage has been done.
By executing the first step of the extradition order of a US court, Canada has already put its entire weight behind the US, as it was expected to do though it had a range of options to wriggle out of this trade and geo-political war if she wanted to. The extradition treaty has provisions that deal with human rights and international political environment and Ottawa had a lot of space to decide otherwise if it wanted to. But it has decided to stay with its natural alliance that binds Canada with the rest of free world through obligations on democracy, human rights, international law and free trade. A right thing to do.
However, it is clear that while dealing with perhaps the most significant issue of his life Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet would be having sleepless nights. The traditional European allies across the border are busy dealing with transitional upheavals of their own, the man in the White House where the buck would stop is unpredictable and issue at hand is to deal with an aggressive and totalitarian state that is bent upon knocking cracks in the old and trusted system. Add Russia into the mix and you get a toxic world atmosphere where interests of China and Russia are converging fast and the their enemy the United States and rest of the free world look divided and dazed.
Though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo finally came out with a clear-worded show of support for Canada after he met FM Freeland but the immediate concern for Ottawa is to get their citizens freed from the Chinese authorities. Both nations would not like to blink or step back but wisely Ottawa is not ratcheting up the pressure perhaps to leave the room for Beijing to back-off. If the Canadians are released quickly, the focus will wean away from Canada and back to US-China trade issues but if the detention lingers than the public pressure will mount on Canadian government and it might have to toughen its public rhetoric which would be hard to climb down from.
For US, getting allies back on its back is absolutely vital as it is a long-haul and has both military and economic dimensions. Needless to say that if the US and the rest of the free world manage to see off this challenge quickly and decisively, there won’t be many challenges left for the rest of the century or as it seems now in the early part of 21st century. – Ends