OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on his way to a major international summit in Japan, hoping to make progress — or at least find allies — in Canada’s multi-front dispute with China.
The G20 leaders’ summit in Osaka comes at a critical moment for Trudeau, with a fall election in the offing and Canada having had no luck so far in its efforts to secure the release of two Canadians in China’s custody — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
China detained the pair, a former diplomat and an entrepreneur, days after Canada arrested Chinese high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou in December on a U.S. extradition warrant. They’ve been arrested on allegations of undermining China’s national security.
As Trudeau set out for Osaka, the two countries dug in. In a regular daily news conference at China’s foreign ministry in Beijing, spokesman Geng Shuang again pressured Canada to free Meng, who is currently out on bail in Vancouver, awaiting an extradition proceeding that could last years.
“Our position is very clear,” said Geng. ”We urge the Canadian side to take our solemn concerns seriously, immediately release Ms. Meng Wanzhou and ensure that she returns to China safe and sound.”
Canada, for its part, insists it is merely following the rule of law.
“There has been no political interference in this case,” said Adam Austen, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. ”It has been entirely about officials taking decisions according to Canada’s commitments.”
On Tuesday, China appeared to up the ante, seeking to suspend imports of Canadian meat on the grounds that its authorities don’t trust Canadian assurances about the quality of its exports. China has previously obstructed shipments of Canadian canola, peas and soybeans.
Canadian ministers and officials have had little luck getting to speak to their opposite numbers in China about any of it. International Trade Minister Jim Carr said Wednesday he’s not concerned about damage to Canada’s brand at this point.
“Someone is going to have to come up with some proof that there’s something wrong with the product and that the product originates from Canada,” Carr said following a speech in Toronto. “We don’t know where the product originated so there are unanswered questions here and (we will) seek to answer them quickly.”
Quebec Premier Francois Legault, whose province generates about 40 per cent of Canada’s pork, called Beijing’s latest move “draconian” and urged the federal government to come up with help for hog farmers. He also left the door open to possible retaliatory measures.
“Trade has to be fair, it has to be possible in both directions,” Legault said. “At this time, we can’t rule anything out.”