A delegation of Canadian parliamentarians has returned from China where they urged Chinese lawmakers to engage in high-level talks about the detention of two Canadians as a part of an effort to improve relations between the two countries.
Joe Peschisolido, a Liberal MP who was on the delegation’s trip last week, said Chinese officials “noted” Canada’s demands, but made no commitment to have Foreign Minister Wang Yi call his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland to discuss the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The Canadian men were detained last December in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an extradition request from the United States. China also subsequently banned shipments of Canadian canola and pork products.
“It’s important that the Chinese government – the Foreign Affairs Minister – speak with our government, in particular with our Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, to talk about getting our Canadians home but also putting back on track our relationship with China, which right now is at a very low level,” Mr. Peschisolido told The Globe and Mail in an interview.
Mr. Peschisolido was joined by fellow Liberal MPs Ali Ehsassi, Shaun Chen and Rob Oliphant – who is also Ms. Freeland’s parliamentary secretary – as well as Liberal Senator Joseph Day, Conservative Senator Victor Oh and independent Senator Renée Dupuis. The delegation met with executives from China’s National People’s Congress – the country’s legislature – and the chair of the Congress’s foreign affairs committee, according to Mr. Peschisolido.
He said the delegation pushed the Chinese officials to be an “international responsible stakeholder” and release the detained Canadians, who were formally arrested by China last week after being detained for more than five months without charges. He hopes the officials will relay Canada’s concerns to the highest level in China.
"Hopefully they heard us and they will relay the message to their Foreign Affairs Minister and to President Xi [Jinping],” Mr. Peschisolido said.
Ms. Freeland has pleaded with her Beijing counterpart to resolve the diplomatic discord between Canada and China, but Mr. Wang has not returned her calls. Speaking to the House of Commons foreign affairs committee on Tuesday, Ms. Freeland said she would be happy to take a call at any time.
"It is our understanding that in these situations, the Chinese practice tends to be – and Canada is not the only country that has found itself in this situation – the Chinese practice tends to be to hold off on meetings at the highest levels,” Ms. Freeland said.
Mr. Peschisolido said the Chinese did not indicate what stood in the way of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor’s release, but made it clear that Ms. Meng’s release was their priority. However, the delegation explained to the Chinese officials that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ms. Freeland had nothing to do with Ms. Meng’s arrest.
“I believe that that is the stumbling block to our relationship with China," Mr. Peschisolido said. “What the Chinese government needs to understand is that our process with the extradition treaty is not political process.”
Unlike the two Canadians detained in China, Ms. Meng is under house arrest at her mansion in Vancouver. She can leave the house under escort and must wear a GPS ankle bracelet.
The delegation asked the Chinese officials for more information on Mr. Kovrig and Ms. Spavor’s prison conditions, but Mr. Peschisolido said they refused to get into specifics.
Asked if the trip was a success, Mr. Ehsassi said it was an important opportunity to be frank with China and “not mince our words."
“It’s difficult for any of us to know whether they understand our legal processes here, so I think it was incumbent upon us, given the fact that communication has been wanting, that we go there and we make the strongest case that we possibly can," Mr. Ehsassi said.
The parliamentarians visited Shanghai, Nanjing, Hong Kong and Macao as a part of their work with the Canada-China Legislative Association, which is funded by Parliament to promote relations between the two countries.