- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2019

On a recent trip to Montreal, I was disturbed by a billboard that greeted me just outside the city’s main train station: an ad for Huawei, the “controversial” Chinese technology company.

Huawei is ostensibly privately held, but with deep links to the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army, has been all but banned in a host of democratic countries because of spying concerns. New Zealand, Australia and Japan have barred the company from installing 5G equipment on their shores. The United States has prohibited government employees from using Huawei equipment.

Canada has taken a more deferential approach to Huawei, and by extension, China. Ottawa has signaled that it will allow Huawei access to the country’s 5G networks, drawing a rebuke this month from Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And Canada has become a country where Chinese elites store their (in many cases ill-gotten) loot. Vancouver is to Chinese oligarchs as London is to their Russian counterparts: a preferred destination for real estate investment. Property prices in the British Columbian city have soared over the last decade as Chinese elites, wary of their own government’s stability, have channeled their ample cash into property.

Canada, under liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has attempted a balancing act between the two rival powers, placating China and luring investment while tending to its most important bilateral relationship: that with Washington. Its neutral, Switzerland-but-cheaper attitude is of a piece with Canada’s nonjudgmental, friendly and fuzzy image. (We’ll ignore for a moment that Canada is essentially a petro-state, hardly a feature that bien pensants find endearing.)

But over the past month, Canada has toppled off the balance beam. The trouble began when it fulfilled an American request and arrested Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, at the Vancouver airport. Ms. Meng, the U.S. says, has systematically violated sanctions barring telecommunications exports to Iran.

China reacted ferociously, immediately arresting two prominent Canadians in China, one a former diplomat, the other an entrepreneur. This week, China revised a prior sentence of 15 years in prison leveled on a convicted Canadian drug smuggler. Now, Beijing decided, the unfortunate convict will face the death penalty. Ottawa announced this month that China has arrested 13 Canadians since Ms. Meng’s arrest.

Canada’s careful balancing act, predicated on its long-standing nice guy image, is out of step with the times. Ours, after all, is not a political era in which nice guys are prospering. Xi Jinping, Mohammad bin Salman, Vladimir Putin, Shinzo Abe, Narendra Modi and Jair Bolsonaro, are, to varying degrees, strongmen. They also demand that other countries pick a side. Make what you will of the policies of the current occupant of the White House, but his outlook on the world is similar in that regard, separating the globe into friends and foes. Not to mention, tight relations with close friends and family excepting, the president is not particularly “nice,” as Jeff Bezos, Rosie O’Donnell, Ted Cruz, and roughly, oh, 18,000 other people can attest.

This, even more so than when President George W. Bush announced it 18 years ago, is the “you’re with us or against us” era. Beijing has made it clear it demands total supplication. As the Huawei brouhaha makes clear, Ottawa eventually will have to decide if it’s with them, or with us.

• Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at eepstein@washingtontimes.com or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.

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