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Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly speaks with David Morrison, the deputy minister, as they wait to appear at the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on Feb. 7 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is dispatching her deputy minister, David Morrison, to China in an effort to thaw relations with Beijing’s ruling Communist Party, sources say.

It remains unclear whether this is a prelude to Ms. Joly visiting China, a country that has been dominating discussions at the Canadian public inquiry into foreign interference that is deliberating in Ottawa.

Canada’s relationship with China deteriorated in late 2018 and has not recovered since. Ms. Joly has not visited China since she took over the foreign affairs post in October, 2021.

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said he believes Mr. Morrison’s visit could pave the way for a trip to Beijing by the Foreign Minister.

“It’s part of trying to find some form of accommodation because right now there [are] almost no exchanges,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said.

“It is the usual pattern,” he said of Mr. Morrison’s planned trip. “You send the deputy minister and he will be tasked to find enough to put together to justify the visit by the minister.”

Mr. Morrison’s diplomatic mission, the sources say, will take place shortly. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the sources who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Relations between China and the West have faltered over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong; its repression of Uyghurs, a Muslim minority group, in Xinjiang; and its increasing menacing of self-governed Taiwan. Starting in 2002, China has helped Russia weather Western-led sanctions for invading Ukraine by providing Moscow with international banking services and buying its oil and other commodities.

Last year, Ms. Joly expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei after The Globe reported Beijing targeted Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong and his relatives in Hong Kong in an attempt to gain leverage over the MP. Mr. Chong had upset China by sponsoring a parliamentary motion to condemn China’s repression of Uyghurs.

Diplomatic relations between China and Canada remain very cool after a near-rupture in late 2018 when Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request and Beijing locked up two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – in apparent retaliation. The men were released in 2021.

As relations worsened, Beijing applied, and then later lifted, restrictions barring imports of Canadian pork and beef.

In October, 2021, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland denounced China’s ambassador to Canada for threatening Canadians living in Hong Kong, saying envoy Cong Peiwu overstepped his diplomatic role when he warned that granting asylum to pro-democracy dissidents could jeopardize the “health and safety” of 300,000 Canadians living in the Asian city.

In 2023, Ms. Freeland halted Canada’s activity with the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and began reviewing its membership in the entity after its communications chief resigned and publicly accused the multilateral development institution of being an agent of Beijing.

Ms. Joly has recently spoken of the need to “pursue pragmatic diplomacy” in Canada-China relations. One of her political mentors is former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien, known for his warm relationship with the Chinese state.

In November, 2022, however, Ms. Joly unveiled Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy that described China as an “increasingly disruptive global power.”

Mr. Saint-Jacques said it would be appropriate for Ms. Joly to make a “goodwill” visit to Beijing after years of tensions over the imprisonment of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig and revelations about the apparently extensive Chinese state interference in the 2019 and 2021 elections.

Ms. Joly will have a communications challenge if she goes to China because of negative feelings in Canada about Beijing’s election meddling, he said.

“Of course we expect the Chinese will complain about this commission into foreign interference as totally unjustified, so the minister will need to explain that we need to have relations with China,” he said. “China is not going to go away.”

Mr. Saint-Jacques said there is also a lot of pressure from the Canadian business community to repair relations with Beijing.

Other countries that have tense relations, including the United States and Australia, have made efforts to repair relations. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have made well-publicized trips to China, as has Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Mr. Albanese’s four-day state visit in November was the first by an Australian leader since 2016 and was seen as a key point in thawing relations, after a string of trade and security disputes.

The trip to China by Mr. Morrison comes after a group of five MPs and senators, most of them on friendly terms with Beijing, visited China, meeting officials of the unelected National People’s Congress and other state institutions. Three MPs – Liberal Majid Jowhari, Independent MP Han Dong and New Democratic Don Davies – and two senators – Paul Massicotte and Victor Oh – met Chinese officials in late March to push for improved relations.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in China on Monday to press the case for open and fair markets, warning his hosts against dumping and overproduction while calling for the European Union not to act out of protectionist self-interest.

The three-day visit is Mr. Scholz’s first to China since his government launched a “de-risking” strategy last year to avoid tethering Germany too closely to the world’s second-largest economy.

Mr. Scholz’s trip to China, in which he is accompanied by several leading German business executives as well as three ministers, is being watched for signs as to how Europe will calibrate its response to what it believes are Chinese goods being dumped on its market.

With a report from Reuters

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