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Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau told the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-China Relations that Canada's ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, has been in 'regular contact' with Huawei.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Dominic Barton, Canada’s ambassador to China, remains in “regular contact” with tech giant Huawei Technologies as he talks to Beijing and Washington to find a way to free Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from Chinese jails, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau told MPs Monday.

Mr. Garneau, in an appearance before the House of Commons Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, shed new light on the apparent shuttle diplomacy role that Mr. Barton is playing as he tries to break a deadlock between the United States and China.

As The Globe and Mail first reported Monday, the Canadian envoy to China spent three weeks in Washington in early April holding talks with senior American officials aimed at facilitating the release of the two men, who have been locked up in Chinese prisons for 911 days.

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Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were first detained in late 2018 shortly after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused Beijing of concocting “trumped up charges” against the two men in an effort to apply political pressure on Canada to release Ms. Meng.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong asked Mr. Garneau why Mr. Barton, whose job is normally to represent Canada to China, was dispatched to Washington, where Canada’s ambassador to the United States, Kirsten Hillman, is posted.

Mr. Garneau said both envoys are playing key roles in talks, but he said Mr. Barton was sent to Washington because of his special expertise. “He is very knowledgeable about the situation with respect to Madam Meng Wanzhou as well of course ... the situation in which the two Michaels find themselves.”

The Foreign Affairs Minister said Canada’s China envoy is also talking to Ms. Meng’s employer, which is based in Shenzhen.

“He is in regular contact with Huawei both in China and in Canada and the United States because of the presence of legal representatives of Huawei in the United States,” Mr. Garneau said.

Mr. Chong asked the minister whether Mr. Barton is carrying messages to Washington from Beijing and Mr. Garneau said no.

As The Globe reported, Mr. Barton met with officials from the White House National Security Council and the departments of Justice, State, Defence, Treasury and Commerce. He also held talks with Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to Washington.

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In late 2020, the U.S. Justice Department held discussions with Huawei on a plea agreement that would have allowed Ms. Meng to return home, a move that could have led to the release of the two Canadians.

Mr. Garneau was asked about the future of Canada’s membership in the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Department of Global Affairs previously warned his predecessor, François-Philippe Champagne, that the bank was set up by China in part “to leverage its economic prowess to gain regional influence and export its model of governance around the world.”

Last week the Financial Times reported that the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has left open the door to funding projects in Myanmar even if the Southeast Asian country, ruled by a military junta, does not return to democracy.

Mr. Garneau said however Canada has no plans to leave the bank. “At this time we are not re-evaluating our involvement with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank but I will say that our policies with respect to China are continuously evolving.”

Separately, Monday, the minority Liberal government refused to comply with an order of the House passed June 2 requiring it to turn over uncensored copies of records on why two federal scientists were fired from Canada’s highest security infectious-disease laboratory and why Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab shipped two powerful viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in March, 2019. Last week all three major opposition parties teamed up to pass a motion 179-149 demanding the documents. More than 250 pages of records have been completely redacted of all information.

Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng were dismissed in January from the lab. Their security clearances had been revoked in July, 2019, and the RCMP were called in to investigate. They have been the focus of parliamentary debate for weeks as opposition MPs have sought information on what happened.

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The Liberal government acknowledged the couple’s firing is related to sensitive national-security matters. For that reason, it says, it is ignoring the Commons motion and declining to provide the information to the special House of Commons committee on Canada-China relations. The Liberals say they are only prepared to hand over classified documents to a different committee of parliamentarians that reports directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Conservative House Leader Gérard Deltell accused the Liberals of treating the Commons with contempt. “This isn’t a game. It is about the fundamental and ancient powers of the House of Commons, to act as the grand inquest of the nation, being openly defied, dismissed and mocked by this Liberal government.”

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