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Canada’s Ambassador to China Says Nations Must Co-Operate Despite Strained Relationship

With relations between Canada and China strained, Canada’s ambassador to China says the nations must find areas of co-operation in order to further conversations on important bilateral issues.

“We have to make sure that we’re extending the hand, that we’re finding the areas of co-operation where we can and where it makes sense,” said Jennifer May, Canada’s ambassador to China, in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

“At the same time, we have the open and frank dialogue on difficult issues and that we stand up for ourselves where we have to do that too.”

May said Canada must take a “varied approach” to its relationship with China to make progress on files such as trade and climate change, but she points out that this can be hard to do as Canadians are increasingly losing trust in the relationship, particularly due to claims of foreign interference. 

Citing unnamed national security sources, the Globe and Mail and Global News have reported that Beijing has deployed operations meant to influence and interfere in Canadian politics — including the 2019 and 2021 elections.

Those operations allegedly have included attempts to intimidate and influence members of Parliament and fund political candidates, among other claims. 

Tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions

In May, the federal government expelled Chinese diplomat Zhao Wei, who was accused of targeting Conservative MP Michael Chong.

“We will not tolerate any form of foreign interference in our internal affairs,” Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said in a statement in May. “Diplomats in Canada have been warned that if they engage in this type of behaviour, they will be sent home.”

Zhao reportedly played a role in attempts to gather information on and intimidate Chong’s family in Hong Kong in 2021 following the MP’s condemnation of Beijing’s conduct in the Xinjiang region as genocide.

In a tit-for-tat response, China expelled a Canadian diplomat in Shanghai.

May said this is often the way these situations play out, but it is still “regrettable” and has had a “negative impact” on the relationship between Canada and China. 

On Tuesday, the RCMP said it will be investigating the allegations that China attempted to target and intimidate Chong and his family. Commissioner Mike Duheme said this case is one of more than 100 investigations the RCMP has opened on foreign interference.

Canada must respond, whether privately or publicly, to claims of intimidation campaigns by China on Canadians, said May. There are different ways to do this — the RCMP is one, diplomatic channels are another.

Positive aspects of countries’ relationship overshadowed

“It’s really important that we are taking action, that we are conveying that back to the Chinese,” she said. “Because it’s also extremely important that Canadians have trust in their democratic institutions and systems.”

With the issue of foreign interference top of mind for Canadians, May says the development of the important positive aspects of the Canada-China relationship are hindered.

She points to the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the importance of China as a market for Canadian businesses as well as bilateral agreements on mitigating climate change and supporting clean growth.

May said it is important for the two nations to maintain their relationship in light of their differences and try hard to foster better “channels of communications.”

“If we only talk to people with whom we are in full agreement, we’d be having a dialogue with ourselves most of the time,” she said. 

Source : CBS