TRENTON, Canada

China is losing one of its main outreach tentacles in Canada and the US as many universities are cutting ties with Beijing’s Confucius Institute (CI).

Ostensibly a mechanism funded by China to foster a better understanding of the Middle Kingdom, some intelligence agencies have branded the institutes as little more than a public relations tools designed to foster influence and control events on foreign campuses.

In Canada, the province of New Brunswick recently became the latest to dump the institute from its educational system.

‘Cheerful face’ on Beijing

The province’s Education Minister called the CI to be “a friendly, cheerful face for a government that is responsible for more deaths than nearly any other in the history of our species.”

There are now 10 CIs in Canada, down from 15. In the United States 40 have been or are in the process of being closed.

China has become a major headache for Canada since, under an extradition treaty with the US and at its behest, Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver, Dec. 1, 2018. The Americans want her to face trial on allegations of fraud by circumventing US sanctions on Iran.

It did not take long for the China to put Canada’s feet to the fire.

On Dec. 10, 2018, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested by Beijing on suspicion of spying. While Beijing said the arrests had nothing to do with Meng, many characterized the move as an attempt to force Canada into releasing Meng, who is the daughter of Huawei’s billionaire owner Ren Zhengfei.

On Feb. 4, 2019 the Chinese government ramped up its pressure on Canada by holding up canola shipments. China is one of Canada’s major customers.

Huawei sued the Canadian government on March 3 over the arrest of Meng, claiming it violated her rights. Beijing also alleges Kovrig stole state secrets.

Beijing blocks Canadian pork imports

China retaliated again by blocking most canola shipments, March 6 and on May 1, 2019 blocked pork shipments from two Canadian producers and seven weeks later stopped all importation of Canadian pork.

Canada took its own shot at China by postponing a July 16, 2019 decision on Huawei building a 5G cellphone network in Canada. There is still no decision as of July 6, 2020 but recently two large telecommunications companies in Canada announced a Swedish firm would set up their 5G.

The Chinese continued to up the pressure over the coming months. But at her second extradition appearance in May 2020, a Canadian judge ruled that the extradition process could continue. The judge said that the case satisfied the issue of “double criminality”, meaning her alleged offense was a crime in Canada as well as the US.

The case could well continue into 2021.

The pressure to do a prisoner exchange has mounted recently but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that would put Canadians in other countries at risk.

And just this week, a security analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said Canada’s standing with other countries would be stained if Meng was let go rather than continuing her extradition hearing.

Others have said that a prisoner exchange trading Meng for Spavor and Kovrig is the right course of action.

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