Recent events in the news have rendered Claws of the Panda, the new book by journalist Jonathan Manthorpe, even more timely and important than it might have been mere months ago. In the wake of the late December 2018 diplomatic contretemps set off by the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, Canada’s relationship with China suddenly became headline news around the world. This story, combined with the slow drip of intrepid reporting from inside China on the massive “re-education camps” for predominantly Muslim Uyghurs, shows that China’s intentions and its relations with this country deserve the level of detail and focus that Manthorpe, a veteran Asia correspondent and columnist, delivers here.
Readers drawn to this topic by media coverage of the current imbroglio may at first be a bit exasperated by the historical detail Manthorpe provides in the book’s opening chapters. But his thorough account of earlier efforts, some very successful and others not, by members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to influence public policy in Canada is necessary prologue.
One of the most valuable things that Claws of the Panda does is bring together all of the accounts – most previously reported – of the ways in which China is affecting various aspects of Canadian life. From post-secondary education to business and real estate to foreign policy, the range of these efforts is staggering. Manthorpe could have provided more international context to help readers understand whether China’s attempts to manipulate Canadian public life are comparable to its efforts in other countries. He could also have put this in context by explaining whether – and to what extent – other influential countries are making comparable efforts. Chinese officials frequently attempt to address critiques of its efforts in Canada by saying that such comments are racially motivated. More background from Manthorpe might have helped readers assess the validity of those claims.
Either way, China’s presence in Canada and elsewhere and its ongoing impact on international affairs shows no sign of waning. Claws of the Panda fills an important need.