In 1970, Pierre Trudeau’s Canadian government cut diplomatic ties with one government claiming to rule China and recognized another. It’s time to reverse that decision.

Out went a longtime ally, the quasi-democratic Republic of China, based on the island of Taiwan, and in came the nasty tyranny known as the People’s Republic of China under Chairman Mao.

This seemed reasonable from an economic and raison d’état point of view. Though Canadian troops had been at war with Chinese forces only 17 years before in Korea, the People’s Republic of China represented a huge potential market that the Taiwanese did not.

And besides, Trudeau always had a soft spot for leftist dictators, as seen by his coziness with Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe and Zhou Enlai. Canada’s recognition of the Beijing regime led the way to the People’s Republic of China getting a seat on the UN Security Council and a global diplomatic shunning of Taiwan.

Almost 50 years later, Canada and China have reached a crisis in our relations. Despite our present prime minister’s fondness for the country – in 2013 Justin Trudeau praised its “basic dictatorship” for turning around its economy – the Chinese are attempting to bully us into releasing one of their citizens, who we’re holding on a U.S. warrant.

The Chinese have in turn arrested Canadians, levied the death penalty on two, choked our trade in canola and pork, refused to see our diplomats and warned us to cease our “white supremacism” and “actions that undermine the interests of China.”

Canada is in a dilemma. Releasing Huawei Technologies Co. chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou will only encourage China to see us as a country it can shove around lawlessly and with impunity. Keeping her in custody (as our laws require) will invite more Chinese damage to our economy and citizens visiting or living in China.

But there is a solution.

Canada’s balance of trade with China is in a deficit – we import almost three times the value of Chinese goods than we sell into China. We’re China’s eighth largest partner but we run the third largest trade imbalance with it. Goods from China represent 12.7 per cent of Canadian imports but the Chinese market is less than five per cent for Canadian exports.

A trade war would be painful to both sides but undoubtedly China would wince if we were serious in signalling that, when provoked, we fight.

But let’s take this a step further. Since we’re involved in an economic and moral conflict with China, why not do the entirely virtuous thing and withdraw our recognition of this genuinely evil clique in Beijing?

Call our embassy staff, students and business folk back from China, and expel their diplomats, students, money-laundering billionaires and spies.

And then recognize once again the Republic of China on Taiwan. It’s now a true democracy and an industrial powerhouse.

Blood vessels would burst in the foreheads of the gangsters in the Forbidden City, invective would fly against Canada and much of the world would secretly cheer us.

Perhaps other countries – tired of China’s industrial espionage, flouting of trade rules, interference in domestic affairs and racist sinocentrism – would follow our lead.

No Canadian politician has the courage (or perhaps, foolhardiness) to take my advice. But if I were in charge of Canada’s foreign affairs, I would make a well-publicized visit tomorrow to Taipei, the capital of the Republic of China, just to give the “basic dictatorship” some food for thought.

Gerry Bowler is a Canadian historian and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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