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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question as he takes part in a press conference during the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Oct. 13, 2020.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada intends to work with allies to challenge the Chinese government’s “coercive diplomacy,” and warned that its use of arbitrary arrests, repression in Hong Kong and detention camps for Muslim minorities is “not a particularly productive path.”

In marking the 50th anniversary of relations between Canada and the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Trudeau spoke more strongly than ever before about Beijing’s increasingly repressive and aggressive actions at home and abroad.

“It has put a significant strain on China-Canada relations,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters when asked on Tuesday how relations had changed since his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, opened diplomatic relations with Communist China in 1970.

The Prime Minster, who has been hesitant to publicly criticize China, called attention to the arrests of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the crackdown on civil rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong, as well as the treatment of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, where more than one million are being held in so-called re-education camps.

“We will remain absolutely committed to working with our allies to ensure that China’s approach of coercive diplomacy, its arbitrary detention of two Canadian citizens alongside other citizens of other countries around the world is not viewed as a successful tactic by them,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau said China is now the second-largest economy in the world and has a significant economic impact on other countries, including Canada. While the federal government wants trade with Beijing to continue, Ottawa will not be silent on human-rights issues involving the Communist superpower, Mr. Trudeau said.

“We are going to continue to work with our fellow, like-minded nations around the world to impress upon China that its approach to internal affairs and global affairs is not on a particularly productive path for itself or for all of us,” he said.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not have an immediate response to Mr. Trudeau’s criticism of its diplomacy. China has repeatedly said Canada must set Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., free before relations can improve.

Ms. Meng is under house arrest in Vancouver while seeking to overturn a U.S. request for her extradition to face allegations of fraud in relation to U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne issued a separate statement, saying he is working on a new foreign-policy approach to Beijing that is expected to be unveiled later this year.

“As we build a new framework for relations with China, Canada will work with partners to hold the Chinese government accountable to its international obligations,” the minster said. “The use of coercive diplomacy causes Canada to re-examine its approach, with a focus on multilateral co-operation.”

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank, in a Sept. 1 report, listed 152 acts of coercive diplomacy over the past 10 years by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, including trade sanctions, investment restrictions, tourism bans and boycotts as well as arbitrary detention and state-issued threats. It said Beijing has applied these tactics to 27 countries with a sharp escalation since 2018.

After Ms. Meng’s arrest, sales from Canadian farmers and the agrifood industry to China took a severe hit. This included an end to shipments of pork and beef for four months and a drastic reduction in the amount of canola seed and soybeans going to Chinese buyers.

In recent days, senior Canadian government officials have taken a much stronger public stand in criticizing China’s actions.

Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, came out swinging last week after China accused Canada of “bullying” Beijing by refusing to release Ms. Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Ms. Meng is under house arrest in Vancouver while seeking to overturn a U.S. request for her extradition to face allegations of fraud in relation to U.S. sanctions against Iran.

“In response to this, the Chinese government arbitrarily arrested and detained two Canadian citizens, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, and they have been living in terrible conditions … without any humane treatment whatsoever in a Chinese prison,” Mr. Rae told the UN General Assembly last Friday.

“When you say that a country of 35 million people that we are somehow bullying a nation of over one billion, one of the great superpowers of the world and they have chosen to treat these two Canadian citizens in this way, this is something that we shall never forget,” Mr. Rae added.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan also weighed in last week against Beijing’s imprisonment of the two Canadians, who were arrested shortly after the RCMP detained Ms. Meng. The minister accused China of “hostage diplomacy” and urged the NATO military alliance to keep tabs on the increasingly assertive Asian giant.

Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, whose access to Canadian consular officials has been limited, are being kept in cells where the lights are never turned off.

“This type of hostage diplomacy is not what good rules-based-order nations do. So if you want to be part of the global rules-based order, we need to have greater predictability. And these are the types of things that go against the norm,” Mr. Sajjan said during an Oct. 7 panel discussion hosted by Slovakian think tank Globsec.

Michael Kovrig has been in Chinese detention since December 2018, and has been even more cut-off from the outside world since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in China. His wife, Vina Nadjibulla, is spearheading efforts to have him released and returned home to Canada.

The Globe and Mail

With a report from Kirsty Kirkup

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