John McCallum has been an academic, an economist and a parliamentarian. After serving as the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during the first 14 months of Justin Trudeau’s prime-ministership, the veteran politician is now about to become Canada’s ambassador to China: a role that could create both opportunity and conflict for our country.

“We don’t always agree with everything with the Chinese government, but we have strong ties which allow us to speak frankly in areas where we disagree,” McCallum said in a Wednesday interview with CTV Power Play host Don Martin. “And I think there’s a lot for Canadians to gain from this relationship.”

McCallum believes that the country can pursue stronger ties with China while simultaneously building bridges with the new American administration, which has taken an isolationist stance in terms of global trade and has turned Sino-American relations on its head.

“Canada can walk and chew gum at the same time,” McCallum said. “We can both pursue stronger ties with the United States and pursue freer trade and greater openness in China and other countries around the world.”

Diplomatically speaking, McCallum believes Canada’s role in the world is “to spread open markets, freer trade, (and) multilateralism.”

“I am doing that in China,” he added. “There’s a lot of scope for measures to increase our ties and to increase jobs for Canadians.”

One of those measures, McCallum said, is a potential free trade deal with China, which is the world’s second largest economy.

“Right now, we’re entering into exploratory talks on a Canada-China free trade agreement,” McCallum said. “I think, as an economist, global free trade under the WTO is the best option,” he added as a caveat, “but it has proven to be elusive.”

Such international openness defines Canada’s role in the world, McCallum said, and the country’s decision to admit tens of thousands of Syrian refugees is a clear example of that.

“It is one of the highlights of my political career,” McCallum said, “and I am proud that when you look around the world, and you see many countries around the world closing their doors or edging the doors shut to refugees, that such a large majority of Canadians were super-welcoming to those Syrian refugees.”

McCallum’s statement on refugees, however, came as a response to a question about his views on President Donald Trump’s hawkish stance on refugees and immigration. When Martin jokingly characterized McCallum’s statement as a “diplomatic non-answer,” the politician grinned.

“Well I’m about to become a diplomat, aren’t I?”