Canadian diplomats have been granted consular access to one of two Canadians detained in China.
A statement from Global Affairs Canada says Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, met with former diplomat Michael Kovrig today in Beijing.
The department didn’t provide more details about the visit, citing privacy laws.
Canadian officials are still pressing China for access to Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor, who is also being detained.
Chinese authorities arrested Kovrig and Spavor on suspicion of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China.
The arrests came days after Canada detained a top Chinese business executive sought by the United States on fraud charges.
“Canadian consular officials continue to provide consular services to him and his family and will continue to seek further access to Mr. Kovrig,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “Canada continues to press for consular access to Michael Spavor.”
Earlier Friday, Tourism Minister Melanie Joly announced she won’t go to China to mark the end of a special year of tourism exchanges, as relations between the two countries continued to plummet.
The decision puts the breaks on a major Sino-Canadian initiative meant to deepen ties between the countries.
The cancellation follows Canada’s arrest – at the U.S.’s behest – of a leading Chinese telecom executive and Beijing’s apparent retaliation by detaining two Canadians.
“Canada and China mutually agreed to postpone the Canada-China Year of Tourism Closing Ceremony and Minister Joly’s planned travel to China. Both governments agreed this would allow us to better achieve our shared objectives,” Joly’s spokesman Jeremy Ghio said Friday.
What those shared objectives are, he didn’t specify.
“We look forward to meeting again to continue building people-to people ties and strengthening the tourism relationship between Canada and China – a relationship that creates good jobs for middle class families and opportunities for people in both countries,” Ghio said.
Since coming to power in 2015, the Liberals work to broaden Canada’s economic relationship with China has featured regular ministerial visits and yearly meetings between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
On a trip to Beijing one year ago, Trudeau announced that 2018 would be the year of Canada-China tourism – an initiative meant to tap the economic potential of upwardly mobile Chinese travellers.
Last month, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and International Trade Minister Jim Carr were in Beijing for meetings with their counterparts. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna recently completed a trip to China to forge links on battling climate change and fostering clean energy alternatives.
“When the U.S. stepped back, China stepped up (on battling greenhouse gases),” McKenna told reporters this week from the United Nations climate change summit in Poland.
“China knows it needs to take action because you can see the levels of pollution they have but they also see the economic opportunity,” she added.
“They’ve been an important partner. We don’t always agree on every issue, but I think they play an important role in these climate discussions.”
Now, Canada-China co-operation appears to be in tatters following the Dec. 1 arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the request of U.S. authorities. Canada is now the subject of scorn in China, across social media and in the country’s state-run media.
The Americans accuse Meng of committing bank fraud in connection with an alleged attempt to circumvent American sanctions against Iran. She was released this week on $10 million bail, but will face a Canadian court hearing to determine whether she will be extradited to the U.S.
Beijing warned Ottawa of severe consequences unless Meng is released. The Chinese embassy in Ottawa loudly protested Meng’s arrest as a violation of her human rights.
Trudeau has explained Meng’s arrest was part of an independent legal process, separate from politics.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is in Washington today, along with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, for a previously planned meeting with their American counterparts – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
Canadian officials say a wide range of topics was planned for their talks, including Russia-Ukraine tensions and issues related to NATO, but the ongoing tensions with China will definitely be on the table.
Earlier this week, U.S. President Donald Trump complicated Canada’s position when he said he might intervene in the Huawei case if it would help clinch a trade agreement with China, upending U.S. efforts to separate the court proceeding from U.S.-China trade talks and contradicting Canadian officials who said the arrest was not political.
On Wednesday, Freeland appeared for fire back at Trump, saying it was “quite obvious” any foreign country requesting extradition should ensure “the process is not politicized.”
She said any remarks from the U.S. could be used by Meng’s lawyers at her extradition hearing.