China Challenges Trump With Pressure on Australia and Canada
China is challenging the Trump administration by escalating its pressure campaign against two of America’s closest allies.
On Friday, Beijing charged two Canadians it has unjustly held since December 2018, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, with espionage offenses. Kovrig and Spavor were arrested just days after Canada detained a Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, on a U.S. arrest warrant. That executive is now battling extradition in the Canadian courts.
But there’s no comparison between the lawful process of criminal proceedings against Meng in a civilian court and what China is doing to these Canadian men. China’s action is nothing but a capricious act of retaliation against people with no relevance to any international dispute.
Also on Friday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that his country is suffering sustained state-actor cyberattacks against its “government, industry, political organizations, education, health, essential service providers and operators of other critical infrastructure.”
Even though Morrison didn’t name names, China is clearly the responsible party here. These cyberattacks are particularly concerning in that they include civilian infrastructure, and, at least in part, are designed to be detected. Put simply, China wants Australia to know that it has the capacity to shut down our ally’s healthcare system and power grid any time it should decide to do so. Again, what we’re seeing here is a simple act of intimidation.
These situations should be priority concerns for the Trump administration. China’s aggression against both countries must be seen for what they are: a deliberate effort to intimidate American allies into a policy of appeasement toward Beijing.
President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should condemn these actions as proof of Beijing’s lawless regime. They are far from the first such actions. But Pompeo should also summon the Chinese ambassador and warn him that America will take all necessary steps to defend its allies.
In turn, if the Chinese cyberattack campaign continues, the United States should temporarily shut down the communication networks of the People’s Liberation Army’s Southern Theater Command. That command is closest to Australia. Australia lacks the scaled capacity to conduct this kind of operation, so America would need to do so in its stead. We must recognize the historic and ongoing support Australia provides to the American-led liberal international order.
Should China fail to free the Canadians, the U.S. should respond by escalating its arrest timeline against identified Chinese “illegal” or nonofficial cover intelligence officers operating on U.S. soil. Those officers are tasked with long-term infiltration operations into the U.S. government and scientific community. And while there is some utility in tracking their operations from a distance, China should know that its treatment of Kovrig and Spavor won’t be tolerated.
Ultimately, the Trump administration doesn’t face too complicated a choice here. Australia and Canada are two of our closest and most reliable allies. They deserve and require American support. Absent that, we would shred our credibility with China and the world.