Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne fired back at Beijing for criticizing Ottawa’s efforts in building an international alliance to free Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from Chinese prisons.
In an interview with the Canadian Press this week, Champagne said he would do what he thinks is best for Canada’s interest and would not follow Beijing’s instructions.
“I’ll take no lessons from anyone, and certainly not from China when it comes to defending and standing up for values and principles and defending Canadian interests and defending Michael Kovrig and Spavor,” Champagne said.
Last week, China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, told The Canadian Press that Canada acted as a “disgraceful” accomplice to the United States in arresting Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei. Meng was arrested by Canadian police on a U.S. warrant in December 2018 while on a layover in Vancouver, bound for Mexico.
The United States is charging her with bank fraud, accusing her of misleading HSBC about Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.’s business dealings in Iran, causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions.
Soon after Meng’s arrest, Beijing issued strongly worded warnings to Canada demanding her release, and arbitrarily arrested Spavor and Kovrig in China, later charging them with espionage.
Spavor is currently jailed in Dandong near the Chinese border with North Korea, and Korvig is jailed in Beijing. Only in October was the Canadian ambassador to Beijing, Dominc Barton, able to secure virtual consular access to both of them.
In an effort to get the two Michaels back to Canada, Champagne has led efforts to create a coalition that includes dozens of countries pressuring Beijing to release them.
However, China has warned Ottawa against lobbying other countries for support. Despite the threats, Champagne issued a statement on Dec. 9 to mark two years of the arbitrary arrests of the “two Michaels.”
“These two Canadians are an absolute priority for our government, and we will continue to work tirelessly to secure their immediate release and to stand up for them as a government and as Canadians,” Champagne said. “We are grateful to the many countries around the world that have expressed support for Canada and for Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.”
The Conservative Party has remained critical of the Liberals’ handling of relations with China, saying Ottawa is not standing up to protect Canada’s interests.
Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole issued a statement on Thursday and criticized the Liberals for their inaction against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), calling their approach to Beijing as “naive” and “still putting Canadians at risk.”
“Tomorrow is the deadline for the Trudeau Liberals to ban Huawei and present a plan to protect Canadians from Chinese intimidation—but we still don’t see any action or certainty for Canadians yet,” O’Toole said.
On Nov. 17, the Tories introduced a motion that requires the liberal government to decide whether Huawei should be banned from participating in Canada’s 5G network, while also calling the government to follow its allies to develop a plan to combat the CCP’s growing foreign interference in Canada within 30 days. The non-binding motion was passed in Parliament on Nov. 18, but the Liberals have yet to do anything thus far.
“Unfortunately, it seems tomorrow the Trudeau Liberals will ignore the importance of standing up to China and protecting Canadians again,” O’Toole said.
“It’s clear that the Prime Minister doesn’t understand the threat the Chinese Communist Party poses to our nation and our people.”
With files from The Canadian Press