Politics

Canada won't take foreign policy tips from China, minister says

Canada's foreign affairs minister is doubling down on Canada's position on the current standoff with China in the face of blowback from Chinese officials.

Ottawa is "the only one" qualified to set Canada's foreign policy, says François-Philippe Champagne

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne is talking tough in response to ramped-up criticism from Chinese officials. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada's foreign affairs minister is doubling down on Canada's position on its current standoff with China in the face of blowback from Chinese officials.

China's foreign ministry said Friday that Canada's attempts to secure the release of two citizens detained in China by involving other countries, including the United States, is "doomed to fail" and a "waste of time."

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said in response that Canada won't take lessons on diplomacy from Beijing.

"The only one who [is] going to dictate the foreign policy of Canada is the Government of Canada," he said in an interview with CBC Radio's The House today.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told TVA's Salut Bonjour program on Thursday that his government has asked the Trump administration to delay signing a final trade agreement with China until Beijing releases businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig.

Kovrig and Spavor have been in Chinese custody for over a year. They were arrested shortly after Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from the United States. Her case is before the courts.

A spokesperson for China's foreign ministry took a shot at Canada for reaching out to Washington.

"If you pull chestnuts out of the fire for others, you will end up being the one getting burned," Geng Shuang said.

Trading relationship in question

Despite the strident tone of China's statements, it's still Canada's second largest trading partner. Reciprocal trade in goods between the two countries totals almost $100 billion each year, says Statistics Canada.

Champagne said Canada's trade with the superpower doesn't have to suffer because of the tensions caused by the consular cases. When asked if Canada could engage in trade with China and still push for the detained Canadians' freedom, Champagne responded, "I think you can."

Maintaining those ties is one thing — Prime Minister Trudeau told CBC News expanding them isn't an option, given the current state of the relationship. On top of the detentions, China also halted imports of Canadian meat and canola earlier this year, causing huge issues for Canadian farmers.

"Until there is room to find that common ground, I don't think that greater free trade with China is really something we can explore," Trudeau told Power & Politics.

China takes no responsibility for the deterioration of the bilateral relationship. 

"The responsibility for the current difficult situation in China-Canada relations lies entirely with the Canadian side. Whoever started the trouble first should end it," Geng said. The Chinese have indicated the standoff will continue until Meng is released.

Champagne said it's time for a new framework for relations with China. So far, he said, Canada's strategy of sticking to the "rule of law" argument in Meng's case has come at a price, but Champagne maintains it was the right thing to do.

"When you believe in the rule of law, I don't think you can pick and choose."

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