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Beware of espionage risk with China in trade talks, ex-security officials say

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OTTAWA – With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau traveling China to talk increased investment, Canada’s former defence minister and former head of Canada’s spy agency both warn that the potential benefits of a trade deal needs to be measured against potential cybersecurity and espionage risks.

Exploratory talks have been underway between the two countries, but with the Canadian delegation on its way there for a four day trip, officials have tempered expectations on whether a free trade deal will be pursued.

Former defence minister Peter McKay said, while a trade deal with China is “desirable” and “necessary,” Canada should be cautious.

“We need to have a very clear-eyed vision of what we want and what we’re willing to trade, and what we’re willing to give up or be vulnerable when it comes to these discussions with China,” McKay said in an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV’s Question Period, raising cyber security and espionage concerns.

“They are heavily involved , heavily engaged in espionage. There isn’t a day goes by that our Canadian government departments, our banking system, even our critical infrastructure are not in some way or another being probed and examined if not hacked, and that has to be a major, major concern in this country,” McKay said.

According to a Canadian Press report, in June Canada and China signed a pact not to conduct or support cyber theft of trade secrets or other secret business information. China has denied launching cyber attacks on Canada, calling the accusations reckless.

At the time of the pact, Chinese Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye said the agreement would help protect both sides from interference from the other.

“China is technically advanced now and we are afraid that our things will be stolen by others,” Lu told the Canadian Press through a translator.

But, that agreement isn’t enough to quash concerns from Canada’s former national security adviser and former CSIS director, Richard Fadden.

He told CTV’s Question Period that Canada’s trade agenda is very different from China’s.

“I think we have to go in with our eyes open. Everybody wants a free trade deal as if it’s the panacea to all of our problems. We’re going to become engaged with a country whose ultimate objectives in Canada we don’t know,” Fadden said.

He said, while Canada goes into trade talks wanting to facilitate the private sector, China would be looking at facilitating Chinese state-owned enterprises.

When asked if China uses its countries to spy on Canada, International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne said, “national security, protecting Canadian interests, whether it’s on the IP side, whether it’s with a state-owned enterprise, is top in our agenda.”

Champagne said the Canadian government keeps national security in mind when initiating any potential trade talks.

Watch Question Period Sunday mornings on CTV, CTV News Channel, CTVNEWS.CA, and CTV News GO at 11 a.m. ET, 10 a.m. CT, 9 a.m. MT and 8 a.m. PT

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Beware of espionage risk with China in trade talks, ex-security officials say

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