World·Editor's Note

China is on a mission to re-make the world. CBC News examines the stakes for Canada

China has arrived as a truly commanding presence on the global stage that few nations can ignore. In our new CBC News series, we explore Beijing's expanding circles of influence and how Canada and other countries contend with China's power.

CBC News series explores China's expanding sphere of influence

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made an aggressive effort to expand China's influence around the world, including through the Belt and Road Initiative, his ambitious, global infrastructure venture. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

The crisis in Hong Kong is once again focusing attention on China's leadership. How far will Beijing go to stop the continuing protests? Many residents worry about losing freedom under the weight of a dominating, repressive power as Beijing seeks to assert its authority over the region. 

Those fears are felt well beyond Hong Kong. China has arrived as a truly commanding presence on the global stage that few nations can ignore. How do Canada and other countries contend with it? 

In our CBC News series China's Power, we examine Beijing's expanding circles of influence. 

China has the mindset and the muscle to play by its own rules. Should Canada resist or engage? There are risks and rewards to both approaches.

Economic success story

China's economic development over the past 40 years counts as the fastest sustained expansion by any state in history. With GDP increases averaging nearly 10 per cent per year, more than 800 million Chinese have been pulled out of poverty. It is an astonishing story of economic success. 

Now, no longer content being the world's workshop, China is exporting homegrown technology, engineering expertise, financial capital and visionary development ideas around the world. 

A Pakistani motorcyclist drives on a newly built road in Haripur, Pakistan, that is part of the Belt and Road Initiative, a modern-day version of the Silk Road trade route linking East to West. (Aqeel Ahmed/The Associated Press)

This projection of Chinese economic might owes much to President Xi Jinping. Under his leadership, China launched the wildly ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, a plan to circle the globe with Chinese-built and financed infrastructure.  Highways, deep-sea ports, tunnels, railways, business zones and much more all tied to Chinese banking, data centres, currency exchange and trade rules.

It's a whole new organizing principle for global development — with Beijing at the centre — and a clear challenge to U.S. leadership.

More than 100 countries have welcomed this investment, from across Asia and Africa to Western Europe and Latin America. As we'll see in our series, Beijing has even partnered with several small Caribbean states, including Jamaica. 

Workers inspect railway tracks at Dazhou railway station in Sichuan province, China, that are part of the Belt and Road freight rail route linking Chongqing, China, to Duisburg, Germany. (Reuters)

But there's a price to pay.  Some nations have found themselves mired in debt. Some regret handing economic levers over to Chinese interests beholden to Beijing. All are binding themselves tighter to a state that expects their political support and is notorious for crushing internal dissent.

Canada-China tensions 

In this country, Canadians are eyeing Chinese investment warily — and perhaps for good reason.

One year ago, relations between Canada and China deteriorated swiftly and dramatically. It started with the Dec. 1, 2018, arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant. Just nine days later, Beijing jailed two Canadians —businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig — in China, accusing them of spying.

China then blocked Canadian canola shipments, suspended pork imports and impeded a number of other Canadian farm products while warning Ottawa of "grave consequences." 

The Huawei logo is pictured outside the company's research facility in Ottawa. Huawei technology and investment are prevalent throughout Canada. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The whole affair has complicated Ottawa's decision on whether to block Huawei's participation in building Canada's next-generation 5G mobile networks, largely over security concerns. 

Huawei, though, is already deeply integrated into Canadian business, technology, and consumer culture. Its equipment is vital to Canadian telecom giants Telus and BCE, and its electronic devices, including mobile phones, are widely used.

Beyond that, we'll see in our series how Huawei is making investments in Canada's intellectual capacity by funding research centres at universities across the country.

Cultural influence

We'll also examine the promotion of China's cultural interests in Canada. One way of doing that is through the state-funded Confucius Institute centres in Canadian schools. Some school boards have embraced them as valuable learning tools for students despite concerns about the active promotion of a Beijing-friendly worldview.

We'll also reveal how China is exercising its immense power in the entertainment world. Filmmakers both in Hollywood and right here in Canada are among the groups being pressured in surprising ways.

At CBC News, we recognize that China represents a difficult political challenge. It is Canada's second-biggest trading partner after the United States. Government and business leaders desperately want to preserve trade and investment opportunities in a market of 1.4 billion people. 

Individual Canadians are also invested in this story. We know it resonates. There are strong cultural connections.  Canadians of Chinese origin are among the largest minority groups in the country. Jobs in agriculture, business, tourism and many other sectors are tied to this important relationship. All reasons why we want to help our audiences better understand the nature and impact of China's Power - around the world and here at home.

Read the stories in this series:


Greg Reaume

Managing Editor

Greg Reaume is the managing editor for CBC News. He began his career as a broadcast journalist in Saskatchewan. He worked for many years on The National as a news writer, assignment editor and show producer and was senior producer in the CBC's Washington bureau.