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The Chinese government says Ottawa-Beijing relations will only improve when Canada releases Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, rejecting the notion that a lifting of a ban on meat imports is a sign of a thaw in Sino-Canadian ties.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang made the statement in response to a question at a media briefing in Beijing earlier this week. He was asked whether China reopening its market to Canadian pork and beef signalled an improvement in strained relations.

Mr. Geng, however, blamed the chill on Canada and said it’s still up to Canada to make things right.

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“As for China-Canada relations, the current difficulties were not caused by the Chinese side,” the spokesman said.

“We urge the new Canadian government to face up to China's solemn position and concerns, release Ms. Meng Wanzhou at once, ensure her safe return to China and take concrete actions to move our relations back onto the right track.”

China had banned Canadian pork and beef shipments in late June, with Chinese authorities at the time citing falsified export certificates as the reason for this measure. Canadian farmers and the agrifood industry saw their sales to China severely damaged in the wake of Canada’s arrest of Ms. Meng, Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer, at the Vancouver International Airport in December, 2018. This included not only an end to shipments of pork and beef, but also a drastic reduction in the amount of canola seed and soybean purchased by Chinese buyers.

China experts, including former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques, said Beijing’s decision to reopen markets had more to do with a desperate need for pork after African swine flu devastated Chinese herds.

Mr. Geng, however, cast the ban removal as a response to Canada fixing “safety loopholes” in its meat export system.

“In June this year, we found that there were obvious safety loopholes in Canada's certificate issuance system of meat exports, and the safety of Canadian meat exported to China cannot be guaranteed,“ he said.

“Recently, Canada proposed an action plan as a corrective measure for certificate issuance and delivery. After reviewing it, we believe this plan will meet our safety requirements and agree to accept veterinary health certificates for meat products exported to China issued by the Canadian authority.”

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Mr. Geng said he hopes Canada fulfills its commitment to safeguard the export certificate system. “It’s good for Canada to make corrections whenever there is a mistake.”

In what was widely seen as retaliation, China locked up two Canadians shortly after Ms. Meng was taken into custody in Canada. Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor remain incarcerated and have been accused of espionage. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland described China’s actions as “arbitrary detentions” of the two men, while her Parliamentary Secretary Robert Oliphant characterized the measures as “targeted abductions.”

Canada’s arrest of Ms. Meng in December followed a U.S. extradition request. The extradition hearing for Ms. Meng begins in January, 2020.

The Chinese ministry spokesman offered no indication that China will begin importing large quantities of canola seed again. “The Chinese competent authority found problems in the regular quarantine and inspection process, and we took measures on those imports in light of that,” Mr. Geng said.

In 2018, canola seed was Canada’s single largest export to China based on dollar value. Exports exceeded $2.78-billion that year, according to Statistics Canada.

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