Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is standing firm on his government’s response to the ongoing Hong Kong protests, despite increased caution from Chinese authorities to step aside.
While delivering a foreign policy speech in Montreal on Wednesday, Trudeau said his government is monitoring the situation in Hong Kong “closely” and despite political differences with China, Canada will continue to defend its values of human rights and international law.
“As a global community, we must recognize that China is a growing power and increasingly assertive towards its place in the international order,” he said. “But make no mistake: we will always defend Canadians and Canadian interests.”
“We do not escalate, but we also don’t back down.”
Over the weekend, Canada’s foreign affairs minister – who’s been actively trying to tame the volatile relationship between China and Canada – released a joint statement with her counterpart in the European Union condemning any violence between pro-democracy protesters and local police.
Geng Shuang, a spokesperson from China’s foreign ministry responded swiftly, demanding Canada stay out of all matters related to Hong Kong or risk facing greater repercussions, trade or otherwise.
“We demand the Canadian side to deeply reflect upon its mistakes, put itself in a right position, stop its wrongdoing before it’s too late, and exercise prudence in words and deeds on Hong-Kong-related issues. Otherwise, it will cause greater damage to our bilateral relations.”
For China’s part, those bilateral relations have been greatly tampered due to Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, following an extradition request from the United States.
Two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were subsequently seized by Chinese authorities days after Meng’s arrest. Trade disputes, including a Chinese ban on Canadian beef, pork, canola, and soybean imports ensued.
Trudeau in his speech said his government has been working tirelessly to secure their release.
In an interview with CTVNews.ca, former national security advisor Stephanie Carvin said this kind of soft diplomacy – striking with words, not action - is the best way forward when it comes to managing Canada’s relationship with the global superpower.
She says any further commentary on Hong Kong should not only be limited but once again made in partnership with Canada’s top allies.
"It’s a really delicate balance with China; you don’t want to frustrate them for no reason. At the same time, you can’t be seen as giving into bullying. So, when you are able to not only speak as Canada but speak in a multilateral statement that offers you some protection."
Carvin is adamant, however, that any tension with China won’t be resolved until the Meng Wanzhou case is handled, either with her release or extradition.
Video of Meng’s arrest at the Vancouver International Airport was made public Tuesday. Her legal team is arguing that she was unlawfully detained for multiple hours, while security officials searched her belongings.
Meng’s extradition hearing is scheduled for Jan. 20.