Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is looking to arrange a one-on-one with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit later in June after months of deteriorating relations between the two countries.
For months, Mr. Trudeau has faced repeated calls from Opposition Conservatives to speak directly with the Chinese President. On Thursday, Mr. Trudeau said he anticipates meeting Mr. Xi at the Group of 20 gathering in Japan that will begin June 28.
“I look forward to being at the G20 in a few weeks as an opportunity to engage with a number of world leaders with whom we have either good working relationships or challenges,” Mr. Trudeau said while speaking to reporters in France after D-Day commemorations. “The opportunity to engage with the Chinese President directly is certainly something that we are looking at.”
It has been more than six months since Canada angered Beijing by arresting Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou to comply with a U.S. extradition request. Days later – in what was widely seen as retaliation – China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor. Since then, China has been inflicting pain on Canadian farmers, banning and restricting the import of significant Canadian commodities including canola, soybeans, pork and beef.
China has made clear that it isn’t ready to end the deep freeze in bilateral relations until Ms. Meng is freed. Her extradition hearing alone is expected to take until the fall of 2020 – and an appeal would prolong the case further.
The Prime Minister said he wants to talk about China’s retaliation against Canada after Ms. Meng’s arrest.
“The continued detention of two Canadians in an arbitrary manner by the Chinese government is of utmost concern to us. Their actions on canola, their issues around other products as well, is of concern," Mr. Trudeau said. "We are going to highlight the processes and the engagement that Canada has with the world and the way China should engage with the world needs to remain, following the rules, principles and values that we’ve all agreed to.”
His office declined to say whether the Canadian government had made a formal request for a meeting or is merely hoping Mr. Trudeau can pull Mr. Xi aside for an informal discussion during the G20.
In the House of Commons, Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole criticized the Prime Minister for taking six months to reach out to China’s top leader.
“Six months ago, China detained our citizens on trumped-up charges. … In that six months, our exporters have faced trumped-up claims,” the MP said. “Rather than tweets about Canada is back, how about they get our Canadians back?”
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has pleaded with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to hold high-level talks, but he has refused to take her phone calls.
However, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told the House Thursday that she did speak to China’s Agriculture Minister, Han Changfu, recently in Japan and he promised to talk to his country’s customs agency about the obstacles facing Canadian canola imports.
On Wednesday night, officials from the Canadian Food Agency did have “a session with Chinese officials about canola,” Ms. Bibeau said.
On Thursday, in Vancouver, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes accepted a defence proposal that Ms. Meng’s extradition hearing begin in January, 2020. It will likely be wrapped up by fall of 2020, the court heard.
One of Ms. Meng’s lawyers, David Martin, said a quick hearing would have been in the public interest, but he told the court that it was almost impossible to “complete a complicated case within less than a two-year period."
He proposed six blocks of court dates over the next 16 months, telling the court it’s the most “aggressive” schedule Ms. Meng’s team believes is workable.
If the court rules that she can be extradited to the United States on charges of fraud relating to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran, Ms. Meng would be able to appeal the ruling to higher courts.
Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques says Canada-China relations are now at their worst since Ottawa established diplomatic relations with Communist China in 1970.
Mr. Saint-Jacques predicted the Chinese will not let a meeting between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Xi occur, saying it’s his understanding that Canada filed a request to speak with the Chinese President some time ago – and received no response.
“I think the Chinese entourage of Mr. Xi will do its utmost to ensure there is no encounter with Mr. Trudeau in the corridors of the G20,” he predicted. “It is really difficult because this issue is managed by the office of Xi Jinping and Xi Jinping is really mad at Canada.”
David Mulroney, another former Canadian ambassador to China, said a meeting with Mr. Xi poses risks as well as opportunities.
“A ‘no’ from Xi is effectively the final word in the Chinese system, the guiding advice for the entire bureaucracy,” Mr. Mulroney said in an interview.
Mr. Mulroney said it’s possible that the Chinese leader will agree to a meeting at the G20 because he might believe the Prime Minister can be manoeuvred to shut down the Meng extradition process.
“As long as the Chinese believe that they can intimidate us, they will pursue that path,” he said. “At this stage, the best approach for the PM would be to make it completely clear that Canada will not bend, and that the continued detention of our citizens will continue to discredit China.”
On Thursday, former prime minister Brian Mulroney joined the Conservative Party in urging Mr. Trudeau to dispatch a high-powered delegation to China to win the release of two imprisoned Canadians.
Mr. Mulroney said former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien should lead the delegation along with his billionaire son-in-law, André Desmarais, who is deputy chairman and co-chief executive of Montreal’s Power Corporation.
“You could put a delegation together led by former prime minister Chrétien and a few others, but mostly Chrétien and Andy Desmarais, and go over there and sit down with people Jean has grown up with in politics, who hold senior positions, leadership positions, in the government of China and say, ‘Hey, let’s get this done,’ ” Mr. Mulroney told The Canadian Press.
He said that Mr. Desmarais, who has extensive business interests in China, “is held in extremely high regard by the Chinese and probably knows more about China than any other living Canadian that’s not in public life.”
Huawei spokesman Benjamin Howes accused the U.S. government of being guided by “political and financial considerations, not the rule of law,” in comments to media in Vancouver.
He outlined the case for the defence in a statement. "According to Canadian law, no one should be extradited to face punishment in another country for conduct that is not criminal in Canada. The U.S. allegations against Ms. Meng are based on violations of unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States on financial services in Iran. Canada does not impose any such sanctions,'' he said.
With a report from Canadian Press