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Foreign affairs minister says communication with Chinese over coronavirus may be helping relations
OTTAWA -- The regular contact the federal government is having with Chinese officials regarding the novel coronavirus is allowing Canada to raise the case of detainees Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor more often, says Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.
In an interview with Evan Solomon, airing on CTV's Question Period on Sunday, Champagne said that frequent communication with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has been a positive aspect of the complicated dynamics around repatriating Canadians from the hot zone of Wuhan.
Champagne said that when he asked to speak with his Chinese counterpart while dealing with how to bring hundreds of Canadians home, he received a call within 12 hours and the pair spoke for 40 minutes.
He described the current talks as "health diplomacy" and said it's allowed for dialogue on matters other than the source of what's become a tense relationship: Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and the detention by China of Spavor and Kovrig.
"The more contact points we can have with the Chinese authorities I would say, the better to get to a resolution of the cases of the Michaels," Champagne said, adding that he's continued to raise the status of the two men in every conversation.
"They understood that this was our first priority, they also raised the case of Ms. Meng, as you would expect," Champagne said. "At least it allows us to talk more often."
Asked whether the chilled relationship between the two countries had contributed to the complexities and delays in evacuating Canadians from China, Champagne said "at no point" did he or any federal officials feel that the troubled dynamics played into the response to the global health crisis.
"From day one they appreciated Canada's needs," Champagne said of Chinese officials since the coronavirus outbreak began.
Champagne said that he and his Chinese counterpart have agreed to try to meet next week when they will both be in Germany for the Munich Security Conference.
In the wide-ranging interview the two also discussed Canada's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council; the latest on the investigation into Flight PS752 and compensation for Canadian families. Tune in to CTV News’ Facebook page, CTV News Channel and CTV on Sunday at 11 a.m. EDT.