Canada has walked away from free-trade talks with China amid soured relations over a Huawei Technologies Co (華為) executive’s arrest and the detention of two Canadians in apparent retaliation, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a newspaper interview on Friday. Talks had stalled more than a year ago.
The decision to quit negotiations aimed at Canada becoming the first G7 nation to sign a free-trade pact with the world’s second-largest economy marks a major policy reversal for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, which had pursued a deal since coming to power.
“I don’t see the conditions being present now for these discussions to continue at this time,” Champagne said in an interview with the Globe and Mail. “The China of 2020 is not the China of 2016.”
His comments represent a hardening tone toward China — more in line with the US, Australia and parts of the EU — after exhaustive diplomatic efforts to soothe ties failed.
Trudeau visited China in September 2016, and weeks later Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) traveled to Canada to renew the countries’ partnership in dozens of areas, including joint military exercises.
Since then, Beijing’s crackdown on its Uighur population and the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy has upset many liberal democracies, including Canada, which canceled its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
Add to this Beijing’s “arbitrary detention” of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor on suspicions of espionage, in response to the December 2018 arrest of telecom giant Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟) on a US warrant during a stopover in Vancouver, Champagne said.
Meng is wanted for alleged bank fraud and breaches of US sanctions against Iran, and has been fighting extradition to the US ever since.
“Our first priority is to get the Michaels back home,” Champagne said.
“All of the initiatives and policies that had been put in place at the time [in 2016 with China] — all that needs to be reviewed,” he said, adding that Ottawa is “looking at all of them with the lens of China of 2020.”
Despite the tensions, China remains Canada’s second-largest trading partner after the US.
In the 12 months prior to July this year, Canadian exports to China increased 23.6 percent while imports rose 13.9 percent.
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