Politics

Canadians detained in China an 'absolute priority,' says new foreign minister

Canada's new foreign affairs minister said the two Canadians who have been detained in China are his "absolute priority," and said he expressed as much to his Chinese counterpart at a G20 meeting in Japan.

François-Philippe Champagne met with his Chinese counterpart at G20 in Japan

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the cases of two Canadians who have been detained in China for nearly a year are his 'absolute priority.' (Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)

Canada's new foreign affairs minister said the two Canadians who have been detained in China are his "absolute priority," and said he expressed as much to his Chinese counterpart at a G20 meeting in Japan.

François-Philippe Champagne said on Sunday that he discussed "Canada's deep concern" about the cases of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during a bilateral meeting with China's Wang Yi at a G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Nagoya, Japan.

Champagne said he specifically addressed the conditions of the two men's detentions and said he and Wang committed to continue discussing the issue. Kovrig and Spavor have been detained without charge since December 2018 in apparent retaliation for the RCMP's arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

Champagne, right, said he and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met for nearly an hour at a G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Japan. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

"There was receptivity of the concern of Canada," Champagne said, but did not divulge any specifics of his conversation with Wang. "You probably can infer from the fact we had close to an hour [of] discussion that this was a substantive discussion."

The G20 meeting was Champagne's first in the capacity of foreign minister after taking over for Chrystia Freeland, who was named deputy prime minister and intergovernmental affairs minister in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new cabinet.

Champagne was also mum with regard to the status of canola shipments that are still banned by China.

On Friday, China's new ambassador to Canada brought up Kovrig and Spavor, saying the two "engaged in suspected activities endangering national security of China."

"But there is nothing like arbitrary detention," Cong Peiwu said in Ottawa, referring to Meng. "These two cases they are very much different in nature. Meng Wanzhou's case is arbitrary detention by the Canadian side. For those two Canadian citizens there is no arbitrary arrest at all. So that's my answer."

With files from Benjamin Blum and Evan Dyer

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