A New and More Dangerous World

Column / Don Newman

The world that is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic will be a much different place than we have been used to, and Canada will have to find a way to manage in it, let alone thrive in it.

To hold its own in this new world, Canada will need a new attitude, a new realization that the world we knew is gone, a new confidence to confront and survive the world that is emerging and a new attitude by the country, the provinces and a new type of government to deal with the new reality that we will be living in.

This new world was coming even without the pandemic and without the disaster of the election in 2016 of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

These events did not create the new world that is emerging, they just helped accelerate the pace of change. 

Of equal importance is the 2018 decision of the People’s Congress in China to make Xi Jinping President for life. That decision confirmed his stranglehold on power and eliminated the possibility of course corrections going forward in China’s assertive and dangerous plan to extend its influence not only in its surrounding area but also through Africa, Latin America and beyond.

It also put paid to the argument that by helping China open up economically the country would evolve into something more like western democracies and become a rules-abiding member of the global economy. That idea was promoted by the business community in both Canada and more importantly the United States, who have reaped huge profits in the past 30 years by exporting North American jobs to China and then importing the products those jobs make back here. The automotive sector is just one example.

Well, that idea was just wrong. Now people who warned that the Chinese would use their increasing economic might to increase their political, military and economic influence are being proven right.

Rather than become a rules obeying member of the global economy China steals intellectual property, bullies its smaller neighbours, ignores rulings that go against it at international tribunals and has militarized islands in the South China Sea in an effort to control the shipping lanes through which 30 percent of the world’s trade passes. 

This was the state of play when COVID-19 hit. As part of his pledge to bring back jobs to America, President Trump was already engaged in a trade war with China. He escalated tensions by labelling COVID-19 the China virus because it originated in Wuhan province in that country.

Since then, relations have just grown colder, and even if Trump is defeated in the U.S. presidential election later this year, China and the United States seem destined to be in a Cold War that will rival the one between the U.S. and the Soviet Union for 45 years after the Second World War. 

This new Cold War will make the world a much harder place. A “for us or against us place.” A less co-operative place and a place where, if countries want to play a role, they will have to step up to both compete and co-operate as the situation dictates.

This is the new world reality. Canadians and their government will have to get used to it. The idea that trade with China was to be the economic salvation of the country is gone. New markets in Asia and Europe will have to be developed along with a reassertion of our commitments to our North American trading partners.

Once again Canada will have to get serious about our military. Procurement will have to be streamlined. Thirty years to replace aging equipment will no longer cut it. Neither will used aircraft from Australia or burnt-out submarines from Britain.

It goes without saying that Huawei will be excluded from our 5 G communications network. Canada will also have to get serious about Chinese influence already in this country. We will have to clampdown on Confucius clubs on University campuses, treat intellectual property thefts harshly and warn travellers about the dangers of visiting China, as Michael Kovig and Michael Spavor imprisoned there in a harsh Chinese hostage diplomacy maneuver have found out.

The world is quickly becoming a tougher, more dangerous place. That is the new reality and Canada has to be ready to compete in it.  

Columnist Don Newman, Executive Vice President of Rubicon Strategies in Ottawa, is a lifetime member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.