Troops of the Alliance that fought against the Boxer Rebellion in China, 1900.
(Image by Julius.jaa) Details DMCA
Canada is locked in a hostage standoff with China that doesn't look likely to end anytime soon. As relations with the world's most populous nation deteriorate, it's important to consider some history shaping the conflict and the impetus for the latest dispute. While most of the media present this conflict in a simplistic us-versus-them, good-guys-bad-guys framing, past and present actions by Canada and the "West" reveal a centuries-old pattern of colonialism, imperialism, military threats, diplomatic isolation and other forms aggressive behavior aimed at weakening and "containing" China.
While the Chinese government has adopted various authoritarian measures recently, today's conflict is still centered on US efforts to curtail China's rise. Most directly, Washington has sought to stunt the growth of telecommunications giant Huawei, the "Crown Jewel of China Inc". The US has effectively banned the world's largest 5G network provider from building its cutting-edge broadband infrastructure and pressed others to follow suit. Canada's arrest and continued detention of Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, is connected to Washington's efforts to curtail that company and China more generally.
This is in line with a long history of Canadian involvement in efforts to exploit and contain China. Beginning in the 1820s, the British began to dominate the ancient empire. In two wars fought over trade and diplomatic relations, notes Noam Chomsky,
"the British government compelled China to open its doors to opium from British India, sanctimoniously pleading the virtues of free trade as they forcefully imposed large-scale drug addiction on China."
The Opium War of 1836 is considered by many to be the beginning of China's "Century of Humiliation". Over that century Britain, France, Japan, Russia, Germany and the US all developed spheres of influence in China. The foreigners played the country's regions off of each other, keeping China's central government weak.
Canada, as a loyal part of the Empire, aided the British conquest of China. Some Canadians fought in China and the British commander of the Canadian Militia from 1880-1884, Lieutenant-General Richard George Amherst Luard, served there. In 1900 Canada was contracted to supply the British forces quelling the Boxer Rebellion. Canadian missionaries were also a significant force in China and they generally aided the foreign powers as detailed in,
"When Missionaries Were Hated: An Examination of the Canadian Baptist Defense of Imperialism and Missions during the Boxer Rebellion, 1900". By 1919 there were nearly 600 Canadian missionaries in China.
Ottawa tacitly supported Japan's brutal 1931 invasion of China's Manchuria region that left 20,000 dead:
"Whatever may be thought of the moral or ethical rights of the Japanese to be in and to exercise control over Manchuria their presence there must be recognized as a stabilizing and regulating force,"
noted the Canadian diplomat who opened the first Canadian mission in Japan, Hugh Llewellyn Keenleyside.
Six years later the Canadian ambassador to China, Randolph Bruce, told the Toronto Star that Japan's invasion of Nanking, to the west of Manchuria, was "simply an attempt to put her neighbour country into decent shape, as she has already done in Manchuria."
Some 20,000 women were raped and tens of thousands of Chinese killed in the six weeks after Japan entered Nanking.
In the fall of 1941 Ottawa sent 1,975 troops to defend the British colony of Hong Kong from Japan. "Hong Kong constituted an outpost which the Commonwealth intended to hold" read an External Affairs message to London in response to a request for troops.
A number of Chinese-Canadians were covertly sent into China during World War Two partly because "whenever the Japanese capitulated, it would be useful to have on hand a team to enter Hong Kong promptly to help reestablish the British writ there." HMCS Prince Robert also helped the British re-occupy Hong Kong.
After the Second World War Canada sided with Chiang Kai-Shek's Kuomintang against Mao's Communists. Ottawa aided the Kuomintang by sending 170 planes and providing $60 million in export credits between 1945 and 1948. The money was granted even though some members of the Liberal cabinet opposed taking sides in the Chinese Civil War.
Mao's government was met with hostility from Ottawa. Canada refused to recognize the Chinese government until 1970. A November 1949 External Affairs memo complained,
"China must now be regarded as a potential enemy state."
Steven Lee further summarized the 1949 External Affairs report: "The rise of communist power on the mainland 'confronted the Atlantic Pact [NATO] powers with considerable strategic and political problems.' In Japan, argued the memo, the US position was threatened by a potentially hostile power in China; the usefulness of Korea and Taiwan as military bases would be undermined, and in Southeast Asia, 'the source of vital raw materials,' Western interests were menaced by the impetus the Chinese revolution gave to communist movements."
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).