PM Trudeau says Canada won't stop calling out China for 'coercive diplomacy'

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will not stop standing up for human rights in China — or calling out Beijing for its coercive approach to diplomacy.

Trudeau said Friday that includes the situation in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy activists have been protesting a widely criticized national security law imposed on the territory by Beijing.

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On Thursday, the Chinese ambassador to Canada warned Ottawa against granting asylum to Hong Kong residents fleeing the situation, saying doing so would amount to interfering in China's internal affairs.

Cong Peiwu said if Canada cares about 300,000 Canadian citizens in Hong Kong — and Canadian companies doing business there — it should support efforts to fight what he called fight violent crime.

Trudeau said China is engaging in coercive diplomacy by imprisoning two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese high-tech executive on an American extradition warrant.

"We will make sure that China knows that not only are we standing up for human rights and calling on a safe return of the two Michaels who've been arbitrarily detained," Trudeau said at a news conference, "but we stand with allies around the world and the United States, to Australia, to Great Britain, to European nations to many nations in every corner of the world who share these concerns."

Cong told reporters in a video press conference on Thursday that China views criticism of its record on human rights as political interference. He also denied allegations that China has forcibly detained ethnic Muslim Uighurs in the country's southeast.

"We will stand up loudly and clearly for human rights all around the world," Trudeau said Friday. "Whether it's talking about the situation faced by the Uighurs, whether it's … talking about the very concerning situation in Hong Kong, whether it's calling out China for its coercive diplomacy."

The Conservatives pushed Trudeau to take a harder line.

"The Chinese ambassador has decided to engage in belligerent rhetoric unbecoming of his office," leader Erin O'Toole said in a written statement.

"To be clear, this was a threat to the 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong. And a barely veiled one at that. It was of the kind of tone and tenor one would expect from someone seeking protection money — not someone who is the official emissary of a member of the United Nations Security Council."

O'Toole said Cong should retract what he said and apologize, and the Liberals should expel him from the country if he won't.

The government should also swiftly set up a "path" for political refugees to come to Canada from Hong Kong and impose sanctions on Chinese officials over the national security law, O'Toole added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2020.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Justin Trudeau accused Canada, not China, of engaging in coercive diplomacy.

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