Canada working on new China strategy, Joly says as PM calls out Beijing’s ‘coercive diplomacy’

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Canada is working on a new strategy for its relationship with an increasingly influential China, says Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly.

She made the comment during an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, which aired Sunday.

“There’s a growing influence of China in the world and every single country needs to take a decision as to what their relationship will be with China,” Joly said.

“That is why I was given the mandate to develop a strategy, which is called an Indo-Pacific strategy, because we need to see, yes, China, but also the region as a whole.”

The details of this new strategy for China, which will be tied into Canada’s plans for the Indo-Pacific region as whole, will be unveiled in “the coming weeks and months,” Joly added.

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Her comment comes just two weeks after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called out China’s diplomatic approach during a wide-ranging year-end interview with Stephenson.

During that interview, he said like-minded countries should “show a united front” against Beijing’s increasingly “coercive diplomacy.”

“We’ve been competing and China has been, from time to time, very cleverly playing us off each other in an open market competitive way. We need to do a better job of working together and standing strong so that China can’t, you know, play the angles and divide us, one against the other,” Trudeau said.

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Both Trudeau and Joly’s comments come as the icy dynamic between Canada and China shows no signs of warming. The relationship plunged into a deep freeze in 2018, when Canada detained Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in response to an American extradition request.

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In apparent retaliation, China detained two Canadians — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — just after Meng’s arrest, holding them for more than 1,000 days. The two men regained their freedom in September of 2021, just hours after Meng secured a deal with U.S. prosecutors to drop the charges against her.

But, far from thawing tensions, China made it clear in a Dec. 27 press conference that the relationship between the two countries remains rocky.

“Does Canada see China as a partner or a rival? This is a fundamental question bearing on the future of bilateral ties that Canada must think through,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, prompted by a question from state broadcaster China Central Television.

Zhao went on to accuse Trudeau of “miscalculating” Canada’s approach to Beijing.

Joly, meanwhile, says she looks forward to providing “more details” on exactly what Canada’s approach to China will be going forward.

“It is a fundamental foreign policy question. And obviously, we will always be there to respond, also, to the expectations of Canadians when it comes to China and many other countries in the world,” she said.

One major looming decision Canada must make in its relationship with China is whether to allow Huawei to participate in Canada’s 5G networks. The telecom giant has long been accused of having a close relationship with the Chinese government and military, and has been banned or severely restricted by Canada’s closest security allies.

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Huawei has long denied concerns that it could assist Beijing’s espionage and intelligence operations. But earlier last month the Washington Post, citing 100 internal Huawei PowerPoint presentations, reported the company was actively pitching the Chinese government on ways it could track individuals and support “ideological reeducation” and labour schedules for prisoners.

A decision is coming on Huawei “very soon,” Joly told Stephenson.

“We will never accept any form of foreign interference — that is also part of my mandate letter,” she said.

As Canadians await both the new China strategy and a decision on the Huawei file, Joly pledged to “call out China” on democratic issues “every time.”

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“It is a complex relationship,” she said.

“And Canadians expect us to navigate it strategically.”

with files from Global News’ Alex Boutilier

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