Canada is fortunate to have assembled a “broad international coalition” of countries who support Canada and believe arbitrary detentions are harmful, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Friday at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
Ms. Freeland, who spoke to reporters alongside her cabinet colleague Finance Minister Bill Morneau, said China has been hearing about the detention of two Canadians from a range of countries, adding that efforts continue here at the summit.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Justin Trudeau had “brief, constructive interactions” with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the first day of meetings at the gathering of major economies.
Video footage from a working lunch on Friday showed the two leaders sitting beside each other but not interacting for several minutes while cameras were positioned on them. Mr. Trudeau could be seen making an effort to interact with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on his other side.
Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Xi greeted each other prior to the interaction in the footage, government officials said. They could also be seen interacting prior to a cultural performance distributed by host broadcaster NHK.
Canada has been open for a long time to having conversations with China in addition to discussions unfolding at some diplomatic levels, Ms. Freeland said on Friday, adding it remains “very, very open” to having conversations at the summit at higher level.
At present, communication has proved to be difficult because the Chinese have indicated they have no interest in speaking with senior officials including Ms. Freeland or Mr. Trudeau.
To try to get through to China, Canada is now relying heavily on the influence of U.S. President Donald Trump to raise the issue in his own bilateral meeting with the Chinese President on Saturday. Mr. Trump committed to doing so after a meeting last week with Mr. Trudeau in Washington.
Ms. Freeland wouldn’t speak to whether Canada made specific requests of Mr. Trump going into the meeting, adding it is never prudent or appropriate to detail private meetings with partners.
“What I think is very clear and what has been discussed publicly by us, as well as the United States, is the partnership between Canada and the United States is very strong,” she said.
In addition to having the backing of the United States, the Prime Minister has trying to establish heightened support as part of a strategy to encourage China to release them and to put an end to diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
The arrests of the detained Canadians is largely viewed as retaliation for the December arrest of Chinese high tech executive Meng Wanzhou. Ms. Meng remains under house arrest in Vancouver, where she awaits extradition to the United States to face allegations of fraud in violating Iran sanctions.
China’s ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, seemed intent on reducing tensions in a farewell speech at an embassy gathering in Ottawa before the summit. He’s leaving for a new posting in Paris after two years in Canada.
A deepening friendship between Canada and China is an irresistible historical trend, he told a reception for the Chinese community, in remarks later posted to the website of China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. The current difficulties in the relationship are only temporary, he said.
Mr. Lu has previously been fiery, asserting that the Meng case shows Western countries’ “egotism and white supremacy” and accusing them of “mocking and trampling the rule of law” in a published op-ed. Relations have hit rock-bottom, he’s said.
In Osaka, it is important to see whether Mr. Trump does indeed raise the issue of the detentions, how he does that and whether it has any impact, said Thomas Bernes, a fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a research think tank.
Canada is doing everything it can to energize other heads of government to make a point to the Chinese that this is not an acceptable way to behave, Mr. Bernes said, adding it is helpful and important to remind China there is a body of opinion among world leaders.
“Having said that, unfortunately, I don’t expect any early resolution or fast action,” he said.
“We can make the points as we want, we can ask others to make their points, but unless somebody is prepared to put something on the table besides words, I think we’re not going to see very much action.”
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