Politico

Joly: Canada is working to rekindle relations with Beijing


Canada’s Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly says she’s focused on rebuilding Ottawa’s damaged relations with Beijing, an effort underway eight months after the close of a U.S. extradition case that ignited bilateral tensions.

“We want to make sure that we have a relationship with China,” Joly told POLITICO in an interview this week, referencing the two Canadians jailed in China for nearly three years“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.politico.com/news/2021/09/24/huawei-meng-wanzhou-new-york-court-hearing-514134″,”_id”:”00000180-ddec-d3ba-ab85-ddef99d40000″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000180-ddec-d3ba-ab85-ddef99d40001″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>two Canadians jailed in China for nearly three years in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

“It is a difficult one — there were arbitrary detentions of the two Michaels: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. I’m glad that this issue is now over and we’re moving on … My goal is to make sure that we reestablish ties.”

In conversation with POLITICO’s David M. Herszenhorn for an episode of the EU Confidential podcast, Canada’s foreign minister discussed trade deals, Russia’s war on Ukraine, and Trudeau government foreign policy. Here are some of the highlights:

Making news: Joly disclosed that she will release the Trudeau government’s long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy in the “coming weeks.” The framework will address Canada’s relationship with China, she said.

Diplomatic relations between Canada and China hit rock bottom in December 2018 following Meng’s arrest in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant. Days later, Chinese authorities rounded up Kovrig, a diplomat on leave, and Spavor, an entrepreneur.

Meng’s arrest infuriated Beijing, which also halted imports of key Canadian agricultural products, including canola seed.

Last September, Meng was freed to return to China after striking a deal with U.S. prosecutors. Hours later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the release of Kovrig and Spavor.

Tensions easing: In recent weeks, Canada and the superpower, its second-largest trading partner, have shown signs of rapprochement.

Late Wednesday, the Trudeau government announced that Beijing had reinstated access to its market for two Canadian major canola-seed exporters“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2022/05/statement-by-minister-ng-and-minister-bibeau-on-chinas-removal-of-restrictions-on-canadian-canola-exports.html”,”_id”:”00000180-ddec-d3ba-ab85-ddef99d40002″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000180-ddec-d3ba-ab85-ddef99d40003″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>Beijing had reinstated access to its market for two Canadian major canola-seed exporters, which had been barred from sending product to China since March 2019.

Diplomatic détente: High-level Canada-China conversations had largely ground to a halt after Meng’s arrest.

During the EU Confidential interview, Joly noted she’d shared a call last month with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

A Canadian readout of the call“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2022/04/minister-joly-speaks-with-chinas-foreign-minister-wang-yi.html”,”_id”:”00000180-ddec-d3ba-ab85-ddef99d50000″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000180-ddec-d3ba-ab85-ddef99d50001″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>A Canadian readout of the call said the ministers discussed “the challenges of recent years, including cases of arbitrary detention, and the importance of frank dialogue.”

The summary said Joly told Wang the world was closely watching China’s actions in relation to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“We’re very much aware that China could definitely be doing more to counter Russia’s positioning on the question of Ukraine,” Joly said in the interview. “[China] is able to send a strong message to Russia regarding the fact that their action is completely unacceptable.”

The Chinese government readout“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/202204/t20220406_10664923.html”,”_id”:”00000180-ddec-d3ba-ab85-ddef99d50002″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000180-ddec-d3ba-ab85-ddef99d50003″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>The Chinese government readout, which said the call was at Joly’s request, showed an openness by Beijing to move past the “serious setback due to the Meng Wanzhou case.”

“China and Canada have neither historical disputes nor real conflicts of interest,” the Chinese summary said. “China hopes that Canada will keep in mind the goal of mutual benefit and win-win results.”

Waiting for direction: Canada’s policy on its complex ties with China remains a work in progress. An updated policy was expected by the end of 2020.

In October of that year, Canada marked the 50th anniversary of its diplomatic ties with China with a statement that committed to reevaluate the relationship.

“The use of coercive diplomacy causes Canada to re-examine its approach, with a focus on multilateral cooperation,” said then-Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne. “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.”

Washington’s watching: The Biden administration has also been keen to see Canada’s China policy.

David Cohen, the new U.S. ambassador to Canada, said in December he had a “high level of confidence” Washington and Ottawa would be aligned.“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://subscriber.politicopro.com/newsletter/2021/12/cheat-notes-for-a-c-87b-debate-799323″,”_id”:”00000180-ddec-d3ba-ab85-ddef99d50008″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000180-ddec-d3ba-ab85-ddef99d50009″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>a “high level of confidence” Washington and Ottawa would be aligned.

“Both Canada and the United States are working on a reformulated China policy,” Cohen told reporters when he presented his credentials in Ottawa. “The two countries share a commitment for the defense and the pursuit of human rights and a social and just society — things that China does not share a commitment to.”

The U.S. is expected to unveil its own China strategy soon, though no date has been set.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had been scheduled to deliver a major speech on China earlier this month, but the event was postponed after he tested positive for Covid-19.

On Thursday, Biden will make his first trip to Asia since his inauguration 16 months ago, with visits to South Korea and Japan. The trip will give the president a key opportunity to meet with regional allies about China.

Looking to Europe: Joly told POLITICO that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has served to strengthen Canada’s cross-Atlantic ties.

She said Canada will be a reliable partner in helping Europe to address energy and food security.

When it comes to trade relations, Joly said she’s been hearing “positive vibes” from EU partners about those who have yet to ratify the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

CETA, which has mostly been in force for five years, has been beneficial to both sides, she added.

Next on the agenda: Once CETA has been ratified, she said Canada wants to move to the next level of partnership — the creation of integrated supply chains on energy, technology and critical minerals.

“There’s no other country in the world that has more engagement with the EU than Canada,” said Joly, who noted she’s been to Europe seven times in seven months.

Getting personal: In response to a question about her life away from politics, Joly shared that war and work demands have complicated fertility treatments. Joly, whom Trudeau appointed foreign minister last fall, has been very public about her goal of becoming a mother.

“Félix and I have been trying to have children for some time,” she said about her husband, Félix Marzell. “I’ve been undergoing IVF treatments for some time, and, definitely, the war has been difficult in the context of continuing these processes, but I’m privileged.”

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