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Politics Chinese foreign minister bristles over human rights during Ottawa visit

Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (left) and Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion participate in a press conference on Wednesday, June 1, 2016 in Ottawa.

Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi lost his cool on Wednesday when questioned about his country's record on human rights and the imprisonment of a Canadian missionary on what critics say are trumped-up spying charges.

The outburst came in a joint news conference with Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, in which Mr. Wang urged the Liberal government to "speed up" free-trade negotiations as part of a new "golden era" of diplomacy between the two countries.

Mr. Wang was asked by a Canadian journalist for the online news site iPolitics about China's treatment of human-rights advocates and the detention of missionary Kevin Garratt, who has been held for more than a year in prison and was indicted in January on charges of spying for Canada.

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"I have to say your question is full of prejudice against China and arrogance, and I don't know where that is coming from. It is totally unacceptable," Mr. Wang said as he waved his pen at journalist Amanda Connolly. "Have you been to China? Do you know China has lifted more than 600 million people out of poverty and do you know China is now the second-largest economy in the world. … Do you think development is possible for China without protection of human rights?"

Mr. Dion stood by – without making a comment – as Mr. Wang berated Ms. Connolly. Earlier, he told the news conference that both he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised Mr. Garratt's case in their meetings.

Mr. Wang went on to say that China's constitution guarantees human rights, and added, "So I would like to suggest to you, please don't ask questions in such an irresponsible manner … and we reject groundless and irresponsible allegations."

Canada has been seeking the release of Mr. Garratt since he and his wife, Julia, were arrested in August, 2014. She was released on bail in February, 2015.

The espionage accusations came about a week after Canada accused a China-sponsored hacker of infiltrating the National Research Council, Canada's top research and development organization.

"We never miss an opportunity to raise human rights, but the details should not be revealed publicly for the sake of Mr. Garratt," Mr. Dion said. "That is something the two governments will have to work together on."

Mr. Wang's visit to Ottawa comes just a week after China expressed its displeasure with the declaration made at last week's G7 leaders' summit in Japan, where Mr. Trudeau sided with the group in expressing concern about escalating tensions in the South China Sea.

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China's Foreign Minister didn't mince words in his meeting with Mr. Dion over Canada's stand on the South China Sea, calling such criticism "cold-war mentality." Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia have raised alarms about China's growing military assertiveness in the vital waterway through which some $5-trillion in trade passes each year.

"Canada understands the passion and patriotism of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of China on this issue," Mr. Dion said, but added that Canada has encouraged "everyone to avoid escalation" and to find a "peaceful solution."

Mr. Wang also met with the Prime Minister on Parliament Hill, where they discussed Mr. Trudeau's upcoming fall visit to China and Canada's desire to negotiate a free-trade deal with Beijing.

"China holds a positive attitude on free trade," Mr. Wang said. "We'd like to speed up the process of FTA negotiations."

He said the two countries have agreed to set up working teams to sort out details in the energy sector, infrastructure, innovation, energy conservation and agriculture.

"We stand ready to work closely with the Canadian side and take the opportunity of this new government in Canada to open up a new golden era for our bilateral relations," Mr. Wang said.

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But he denied that China wants Canada to lift foreign-investment restrictions and guarantee an oil pipeline from the oil sands to the B.C. coast as preconditions for signing a free-trade deal.

During a visit to Ottawa in February, China's Vice-Minister for Financial and Economic Affairs, Han Jun, told The Globe and Mail that his country will require Canadian concessions on investment restrictions and a commitment to build an energy pipeline to the coast.

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