Canada’s former ambassador to China, sacked because of remarks he made in the wake of Huawei’s high-profile extradition case, said he has warned former contacts at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that any further “punishments” imposed on Canada’s exports could lead to a change of government that is unfavourable to Beijing.
“Anything that is more negative against Canada will help the Conservatives, [who] are much less friendly to China than the Liberals,” John McCallum, a veteran Liberal Party member, told the South China Morning Post in an interview in Hong Kong on Monday.
“I hope and I don’t see any reason why things will get worse, it would be nice if things will get better between now and [Canada’s federal] election [in October].”
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McCallum also urged Canadian government officials and business leaders to keep up relationship-building visits to China in preparation for a normalisation in ties. He noted that next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations on October 13, 1970.
“Canada is in China for the long run … this problem will pass,” he said. “It’s important for Canadian business people not just to come to China but to come often … especially when the going is tough.
“This will put our companies in a good position to do well when the going improves.”
Relations between Canada and China have been frayed since the Huawei Technologies chief financial officer Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of the company’s founder, was arrested in Vancouver in early December over an alleged breach of US sanctions on Iran.
Since then, China has detained two Canadians, including businessman Michael Spavor, who worked in North Korea, and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, on spying allegations. A third Canadian was retried on charges of drug smuggling and sentenced to life in prison.
Canadian companies reported in late March that their canola shipments to China had been blocked. China also snubbed pork imports from two Canadian companies in early May.
China accounted for nearly 50 per cent of Canada’s canola exports last year, or about five million metric tonnes worth C$2.5 billion (US$1.91 billion), according to the Canadian Canola Growers Association.
Meng’s extradition hearing will begin next January. United States President Donald Trump has said he would be willing to intervene in the case if it could secure a trade deal with China.
McCallum reiterated his belief that Meng had good arguments on her side, including Trump’s comments in December and the fact that Canada is not party to US sanctions on Iran. “It is quite possible the judge will release her,” he said.
McCallum last month joined Canadian law firm McMillan as a senior strategic adviser. He conceded that he “misspoke” in saying Meng’s legal defence case was strong against the extradition request, which led to his resignation in January at the request of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Meng’s arrest, which took place on the same night that President Xi Jinping dined with Trump in Buenos Aires, triggered a diplomatic row between Beijing and Ottawa, with China threatening “grave consequences”.
McCallum, who was in Hong Kong after a two-week business trip visiting five mainland cities, said he expected the dispute to blow over.
“Other nations have had problems with China in the past and are now doing just fine,” he said. “South Korea had an issue over missile defence and now things are back to normal, similarly with Norway and Japan.”
China lifted economic sanctions on South Korean retailer Lotte last month, more than two years after the company angered Beijing by providing land for the deployment of a US anti-missile defence system in South Korea.
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Oslo and Beijing normalised relations and resumed free trade talks in 2016, after having fallen out over the decision by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award its 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Ties between Japan and China were strained by a territorial row over a group of islands in the East China Sea in 2012. However, relations have been on the mend since last year.
Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, established diplomatic ties with China on October 13, 1970. He made the first official visit to China by a Canadian premier in 1973.