Canada is developing a new China strategy and other countries will likewise need to reassess their relationship with Beijing’s “growing influence,” says Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly.
“There’s a growing influence of China in the world and every single country needs to [make] a decision as to what their relationship will be with China, and what our relationship as a country will be with China, ” Joly said in an interview on Global News’ The West Block program on Jan. 9.
“We need to be able to have a clear strategy in the region when it comes to trade, when it comes to also our relationship economically speaking, but also on human rights and democratic values and issues.”
Joly noted that part of the mandate given to her by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was to develop and launch an “Indo-Pacific strategy” aimed at deepening diplomatic, economic, and defence partnerships with international allies in the region, which she said will be her focus “in the coming weeks and months.”
Joly did not respond directly when asked if the strategy will entail a foreign policy shift in barring Chinese state-owned companies from buying Canadian companies with the potential intention to carry out foreign misinformation and disinformation operations.
“On the question of foreign interference. It is clear that in a democracy, we will never accept any form of foreign interference,” Joly answered, adding that it is also part of the mandate letter to her and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.
“Let’s be frank, there cannot be economic coercion on the part of any foreign country in Canada, and that is why it’s important that our businesses also are well protected.”
Joly also didn’t respond directly when asked whether the Canadian government will ban Beijing-linked telecom Huawei from participating in Canada’s 5G telecommunication networks, saying only that a decision “is coming very soon.”
Her response on Huawei echoes Trudeau’s promise over three months ago that a decision on the ban will be made “in the coming weeks.”
Canada remains the only country in the Five Eyes—an intelligence alliance between Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand—that hasn’t banned or planned to phase out Huawei’s products from its 5G network.
China recently warned that its relationship with Canada is at a crossroads, following Trudeau’s call last month for the world’s democracies to form a “united front” against the Chinese regime’s “coercive diplomacy.”
“We’ve been competing, and China has been, from time to time, very cleverly playing us off each other in an open market, competitive way. We need to do a better job of working together and standing strong so China can’t play the angles and divide us one against the other,” Trudeau told The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson on Dec. 26.
Beijing’s stance toward Ottawa became more hostile following Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request in 2018, with the Chinese regime arresting two Canadian citizens in apparent retaliation. The Canadians were released once the U.S. dropped its extradition request against Meng and she was allowed to go back to China.
Canada and China’s relationship suffered another blow during the Chinese authorities’ recent crackdown on Hong Kong’s press freedom. On Dec. 29, Hong Kong’s national security police arrested a number of former board members of a local pro-democracy media outlet, Stand News, including Canadian citizen and pop singer Denise Ho.
Joly said her government’s public condemnation of Ho’s arrest and the decision to not send any officials to the Beijing Olympics in a diplomatic boycott of the Games are examples of the Liberals’ approach to human rights in China.
“We will call out China on democratic issues every time, and at the same time, we will further exercise here with experts, with academics, with people that have ties to China, with also people that have an opinion and expertise in the region to make sure that ultimately we’re ready for the next years and the next decade.”