U.S., Australia undermining China's trading relationship with Canada, ambassador suggests
Expert calls China's denial of intellectual property theft accusations a 'bald-faced lie'
China is keen to launch formal free trade talks with Canada, but its envoy to Ottawa suggests that Canada's own allies could be souring the relationship.
During an hour-long interview with CBC News conducted Monday through an independent Mandarin translator, China's ambassador to Canada accused the United States and Australia of smearing China's reputation.
"I think there are some voices from Western countries, including the U.S. and Australia, that [have] regarded China as a threat," said Ambassador Lu Shaye.
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"I hope that the Sino-Canadian relationship can forge ahead, without much interference from different sources ... external noises, or other external interventions."
Lu criticized the "media atmosphere" in the U.S. and Australia and said the governments in both countries have some "unfriendly policies toward China."
The United States recently imposed billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese goods, meant to stop what it says are unfair trading practices.
U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to crack down on the theft of intellectual property by the Chinese government — an accusation Lu denies.
"It's sheer nonsense," Lu said in English to emphasize his point.
He accused the Trump administration of trying to slow the development of China's high tech industries through the use of "dirty tricks." He also accused the U.S. of launching the "largest trade war in economic history."
"The U.S. has come up with so many excuses, like stealing their technology, or China's infringement on their technology. All these excuses were made in order to hinder the development of China's high tech industry.
"Chinese economic development, as well as technical development, are made not by stealing or robbing others' technology. They are made by industrial work and intelligent creation."
Western security agencies, including the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), have issued warnings in the past about the sorts of threats China poses.
"China has been stealing intellectual property. It's pretty much known this is a fact. They've been caught in the act ... to deny it is kind of, frankly, a lie," said Stephanie Carvin, an assistant professor of international relations at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Carvin said the ambassador does have a valid argument, though — that President Trump's recent tariff actions are making the situation even more difficult to manage.
"Donald Trump has absolutely led a trade war against China, and this is probably not the best way to deal with the theft of intellectual property issues. At the same time, for China to deny that it is involved in these activities is frankly a bald-faced lie."
Earlier this year, the Australian government introduced sweeping anti-influencing laws after an investigation revealed attempts by China to interfere in its domestic politics.
That move has ramped up tensions between Beijing and Canberra.
"Political interference is not what China has been doing all the time. It is what the western countries are doing," Lu said.
All of this, Lu said, could be driving a wedge into the Canada-China commercial relationship.
"Certainly the influence is there because the U.S., Canada, and Australia are allies."
'Earlier the better' for trade talks, says ambassador
Preliminary free trade talks between Canada and China all but stalled when negotiations broke down late last year.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled to Beijing in December 2017. He was expected to announce the launch of formal free trade discussions during that visit.
Sources have told CBC News the plan was nixed after the Chinese government became uncomfortable with some of the proposals on labour, gender and the environment that Canada wanted to include in the talks.
Despite the lack of recent progress, Lu said he is optimistic negotiations will get back on track.
"China hopes that our discussion and signing of the agreement can be as early as possible. The earlier the better, because the earlier we are able to sign this agreement, the earlier we will reap the benefits," Lu said.
The ambassador also was quick to dismiss the concerns of Canadians who oppose deepening ties with China because of the country's poor human rights record.
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"The Chinese government has created and maintained peaceful living environment for its people," Lu argued, claiming it's treating its citizens "(one) hundred times better than the overwhelming majority of other countries to their citizens."
The ambassador pointed to opinion polls that have appeared in Chinese state media that apparently suggest around 80 per cent of the population is satisfied with the government.
"Chinese people are showing a high rate of satisfaction with their government ... while the U.S. has a much lower satisfaction rate."
When CBC News asked the ambassador whether he thought such polling suggests Chinese citizens fear punishment for openly criticizing the government, he insisted that "you can find many people criticizing the government" online.
But President Xi Jinping has tightened state control over what can be published and read online in China. Last year, Beijing ordered an investigation of social media sites in an attempt to regulate web content.
"Freedom of speech is not absolute," Lu said. "It cannot break the law. It cannot infringe on the national interest as well as the people's interest.
"Isn't it true that both the U.S. and Canada (don't) allow the spreading of terrorist remarks? Because you think that spreading of terrorist remarks puts risks for national security."
Carvin said she has profound doubts about the ambassador's claims, and the polling he cites.
"I'm not sure that's a legitimate poll," she said, adding that while there is a vibrant social media community in China, it's closely monitored by the government.
"The surveillance of its population has increased, and it's harnessing technology, including Western technology ... in order to do that."