OTTAWA/HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – China’s new ambassador to Canada on Friday warned Ottawa not to follow the U.S. lead and formally back protesters in Hong Kong, saying such a move would cause “very bad damage” to already poor ties with Beijing.
Canada, locked in a trade and diplomatic dispute with China, has repeatedly expressed concern about the safety of its 300,000 citizens in Hong Kong, hit by five months of mass demonstrations for more democracy and autonomy.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed two bills to back the protesters and send a warning to China about human rights.
“If somebody here really tries to … have this kind of law like that in the United States, it’s very dangerous,” said Chinese envoy Cong Peiwu, speaking in English.
“If anything happens like this it will certainly have a very bad damage on our bilateral relationship and that is not in the interests of Canada,” he told a news conference in the embassy. He formally presented his credentials on Nov. 1.
The uncompromising tone of his message indicated that while the ambassador may have changed, China’s approach has not.
Cong repeated Beijing’s demand that Canada immediately release Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who is out on bail after Canadian police detained her on a U.S. arrest warrant last December.
“This incident has led to the severe difficulties the two countries are facing nowadays,” said Cong.
Shortly after Meng’s arrest, China picked up two Canadian citizens on state secret charges, and has since blocked imports of canola seed from Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asked on Wednesday what additional measures Canada would take to protect its citizens in Hong Kong, said, “We will continue to call for de-escalation and an end to violence” while urging dialogue.
If Canada wanted to protect its citizens, it should ask “those rioters to stop the violence, otherwise those Canadians living in Hong Kong, how can they be safe?” Cong said.
In a move that could further irritate China, two prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists will accept an award on Saturday at a major Canadian gathering that is partly funded by the federal government.
Figo Chan and Emily Lau are due to accept the John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service on behalf of the people of Hong Kong. It will be presented to them at the Halifax International Security Forum in Atlantic Canada.
Meanwhile, Canada’s defense minister said Friday China is not an adversary despite the arbitrary detention of two Canadians as he hosted the security forum.
Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said at the forum that the arrests of ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael have strained relations. Sajjan said there is a need for Beijing to return to rules based international order, but he said there is still cooperation on trade.
“We don’t consider China as an adversary,” Sajjan said. “We do have two Canadians that have been arbitrarily detained in China and we ask China for their expeditious release and that’s extremely important to us.”
China has also sentenced two other Canadians to death and suspended imports of Canadian canola. Relations between Canada and China are at their lowest point since the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Halifax International Security Forum that Forum President Peter Van Praagh said it is time to recognize that China has a different worldview and describes Beijing as an adversary and strategic competitor.
“This is a big country that does not share our values and yet there are Canadians and Americans who do a lot of business and it does create jobs and so what are we willing to surrender in terms of our own values in cooperation with China and where does that line get drawn?” Van Praagh said.
“It is no longer a secret that Xi Jingping’s China is working to make the world safe for authoritarianism. It is time for a comprehensive China strategy for the U.S, Canada and their allies that make the world safe for democracy,” he said.
In its 11th year, the Halifax International Security Forum has attracted top defense and security officials from Western democracies. Halifax International Security Forum Board Member Cindy McCain will present the John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service to the people of Hong Kong on Saturday. China has condemned moves by U.S. lawmakers to throw their support behind the protesters in Hong Kong, threatening “strong countermeasures.”
U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, Republican Sen. Jim Risch, the chairman of the U.S. Senate’s foreign relations committee and Richard Spencer, secretary of the U.S. Navy are attending the forum.
“We need to be talking about China,” Van Praagh said. “It’s not too late to be talking about China but it is late.”
Trump said Friday that he told Chinese President Xi Jinping that efforts to quash the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong would complicate negotiations for a U.S.-China trade deal.