Canada’s move to push out Chinese telecom firm draws fire in China
Published: Dec 30, 2021 08:48 PM
Consumers experience 5G mobile phones at a business hall of China Mobile Beijing Branch in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 31, 2019. (Xinhua/Shen Bohan)

Consumers experience 5G mobile phones at a business hall of China Mobile Beijing Branch in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 31, 2019. (Xinhua/Shen Bohan)

A move by the Canadian authorities to force CMLink, the Canadian subsidiary of China's largest telecom carrier China Mobile, to shut down its services in the country, citing national security risks, has drawn widespread criticism in both China and Canada, where many slammed the decision as politically motivated.

The move will likely put China-Canada ties, which have barely recovered from the release of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzheng about three months ago, back on an uncertain path, as the Canadian government seemingly doubles down on its hostility towards China, Chinese analysts noted on Thursday. 

CMLink has announced plans to cease operations since January 5, 2022. From Tuesday, customers will be no longer able to purchase CMLink SIM cards or register new one-card multi-number applications, according to a statement posted on CMLink's website that detailed its ceasing of operations following a request by the Canadian federal government. All users can submit a request for a full refund for the balance of their accounts, with one-card multi-number services being suspended from March 31, 2022. 

The announcement came after the Canadian government brushed aside CMLink's efforts to push back on so-called security concerns, instantly stirring public anger against Ottowa's crackdown targeting Chinese businesses.  

Some netizens took to Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo to lambast Canada's move as "unjustified" and hurting the interests of both peoples. They called for countermeasures. 

"This unreasonable decision is another example of the Canadian government's crackdown on Chinese companies following the US' footstep by politicizing economic issues, which will hurt both Chinese and Canadian interests, affecting the normal development of economic and trade relations between the two countries," Bai Ming, deputy director of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce's International Market Research Institute, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Bai said that Canada had played a dishonorable role in the Meng Wanzhou case, and it did not get its way when Meng returned to China, and now it targets other Chinese telecommunications companies. "Canada thinks that suppressing Chinese enterprises is its strong point, but it is a pity that Canada has no other strengthen except for that," Bai noted. 

The coerced withdrawal of the firm's Canadian unit also saddened local users who preferred CMLink's services. Knowing that China Mobile was forced to terminate its Canadian business, some Chinese in Canada voiced their disappointments toward the Canadian government's decision.

 "Even if I don't return to China, I still want to have a domestic cell phone number to receive text messages from my hometown in Canada," a Chinese national studying in Canada nicknamed 'lulu' told the Global Times on Thursday. 

After Canada unreasonably shut down the service, she could only purchase a new local phone card, and then a Chinese phone card when she returned to China.

China Mobile's CMLink service is popular among Chinese Canadians because its one-card-multi-number service allows them to use both Chinese and Canadian cell phone numbers, especially for users who frequently travel between China and Canada, offering the convenience of not having to change cards and numbers. 

Another Chinese woman surnamed Wang working in Canada told the Global Times on Thursday that the termination has caused great inconvenience to Chinese visiting family and friends, because only domestic cell phone numbers can perform functions like electronic payments.

On December 11, Canadian media outlet, the Global News, said that the government had directed China Mobile to divest its stake in a Canadian subsidiary, alleging that its investment could result in the Canadian business being leveraged by the Chinese state "for non-commercial purposes, including compromising critical infrastructure and foreign interference, to the detriment of Canada's national security."

China Mobile asked the federal court to set aside the recent decision, saying the government has no grounds to believe the company would compromise security or engage in espionage since the company does not own nor operate any transmission facilities in Canada, lacks privileged or direct access to any critical infrastructure, and does not have access to any sensitive telecommunications data or personal information, other than basic contact details.