Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Canada has a complex relationship with China, and that the co-ordinated effort to help Canadians leave Wuhan shouldn’t be mistaken for a return to normalcy between the two countries.
Mr. Champagne delivered a wide-ranging speech at the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations Friday afternoon where he raised human rights and climate change, and outlined his priorities: Iran, China and gaining a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
“As with the Zika virus epidemic in 2016, the Ebola virus in 2014, the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 or even SARS in 2003, it has always been vital that countries work together to prevent diseases from spreading,” said Mr. Champagne, according to prepared remarks.
“Throughout this crisis we have been in constant contact with international partners to work together as efficiently as necessary,” he said.
Mr. Champagne said that thanks to the co-operation of the Chinese and Japanese authorities, Canada was able to repatriate nearly 550 of its citizens.
“However, it should not be inferred that Canada’s relationship with China has returned to normal. As you know, our relationship with China is complex and multidimensional.”
This year marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and China, Mr. Champagne said, adding the countries are going through a “turbulent period.”
“Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been arbitrarily detained for over a year. Our top priority remains to secure their release. We are also working to obtain clemency for Robert Schellenberg, sentenced to death by China,” he said.
Mr. Champagne said that it is possible to work with China on reforming the World Trade Organization, while not being aligned with the country on human rights.
He also raised flight 752, the Ukrainian passenger plane carrying 176 passengers including 57 Canadians, that was accidentally shot down by Iran last month.
Despite not having a diplomatic relationship with Iran, Canada was able to dispatch investigators and repatriate the bodies of victims, Mr. Champagne said. However, he added, there is more to do to ensure Iran fully assumes responsibility, including a full and transparent investigation, and downloading and analyzing the plane’s black boxes.
“We owe it to the families to get all the answers to the questions surrounding this terrible tragedy,” he said, “We will judge Iran not by its words but by its actions. I will remind them, the world is watching.”
Mr. Champagne raised Canada’s campaign for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, saying it is a vehicle for promoting Canadian values.
“Our campaign for a seat on the Security Council is therefore an opportunity for our government to demonstrate our leadership in the face of the great challenges and crises of our time,” he said.
He said he has heard criticism that the fight for a seat is not worth it, or too late, and that he believes it is “never too late” to fight for women’s rights, human rights, the environment and democracy.
Mr. Champagne said that to those who say the Security Council is outdated and ineffective, he agrees that reform is needed, adding he remembers a quote from Winston Churchill: “It may not be perfect, but it’s the best thing we’ve got!”
Mr. Champagne concluded his speech by highlighting Canada’s relationship with the United States, saying the new NAFTA opens a new chapter.
“We are allies, partners and friends, inseparable from our geography, our personal ties and our economic ties.”