The spiraling diplomatic row between Ottawa and Beijing “lies entirely with Canada,” the Chinese foreign ministry said Thursday — suggesting for the first time that its leadership won’t speak with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau until Canada drops extradition proceedings against a Chinese telecom executive.
CBC News reported Wednesday that Beijing ignored a personal attempt by Trudeau earlier this year to arrange a conversation with China’s premier in order to intervene on behalf of Canadians detained in China. Trudeau’s office confirms that the prime minister requested the meeting, but China ignored and ultimately rejected his request.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC Radio last month she also sought a meeting with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, but was unsuccessful.
“What I can tell you is that the current setback China-Canada relations face are entirely caused by the Canadian side itself, and the responsibility lies entirely with Canada, too,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang, when asked whether the two rejections signal a diplomatic freeze between the two countries.
“We hope that Canada will take seriously our severe concerns and immediately release Ms. Meng Wanzhou, and actively take substantial measures to push China-Canada relations back on track as soon as possible.”
This is the first overt link China has drawn between the diplomatic cold shoulder it’s giving Canada and its demand that Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou be released from Canadian custody.
The RCMP apprehended Meng on Dec. 1 while she was changing planes in Vancouver, in response to a request from the United States for her extradition to face charges of fraud and violating international sanctions against Iran. She has been released on bail and is living in a multimillion-dollar Vancouver home in advance of her extradition hearing.
That same month, two Canadians — businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig — were detained in China, a move widely seen as retaliation for Meng’s arrest.
Former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney predicts there “won’t be a resolution” to the current chill unless Meng is released.
“The Chinese have been very successful in creating the impression … that a call or a meeting with one of their leaders is something that’s good in itself, it’s something that you should pay for in diplomatic terms, just to have the conversation,” Mulroney told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics on Wednesday.
“I think what they’re doing is raising the pressure on the prime minister and communicating very subtly that until he has something to offer — namely, Madame Meng Wanzhou — he’s not going to have a conversation. They’re just going to let the pressure build.”
The Liberal government has been under increasing pressure, particularly from the opposition Conservatives, to reach out to the Chinese leadership.
Freeland has made it no secret that she repeatedly tried and failed to get a meeting with her counterpart, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
“If Chinese officials are listening to us today, let me repeat that I would be very, very keen to meet with Minister Wang Yi or to speak with him over the phone at the earliest opportunity,” she said on CBC Radio last month.
The prime minister has said he was considering “engaging directly” with Chinese President Xi Jinping as tensions between Canada and China continue.
“The opportunity to engage with the Chinese president directly is certainly something that we are looking at,” Trudeau said June 6, citing the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan later this month.
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien has floated the idea of Ottawa cancelling Meng’s extradition as way to thaw out hostile relations with China, the Globe and Mail reported Thursday.
Doing so would be an unprecedented act for a Canadian justice minister, according to a secret memo written to the prime minister shortly after Meng’s arrest, obtained under access to information law by CBC News.
“There are no examples of the Minister (of Justice) discharging a case for political or diplomatic reasons,” wrote Greta Bossenmaier, Trudeau’s national security and intelligence adviser, on Dec. 17.
Last week, Chrétien said he is willing to go to China to negotiate an end to Canada’s diplomatic impasse with Beijing if Trudeau asks him.