Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi say they want to find common ground and maintain communication, despite tensions across the Pacific.
Both countries recognize ongoing diplomatic strain but pledge to maintain communication channels
Dylan Robertson · The Canadian Press
· Posted: Jan 12, 2024 4:01 PM EST | Last Updated: January 13
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi spoke Thursday and pledged to maintain open communication channels. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press, Andy Wong/The Associated Press)Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi say they want to find common ground and maintain communication, despite tensions across the Pacific.
But a senior analyst says Beijing’s preferred path to better relations might be impossible for Canadians to follow.
“This is a positive development. We need to have regular dialogue at the highest levels,” said Vina Nadjibulla, research vice-president for the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
“It’s important, not because we need to have some kind of a normalization of relations or rapprochement. That’s not the purpose.”
The two ministers spoke on Thursday, four months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a rapprochement with China would be impossible, in part due to concerns over foreign interference.
Joly requested the call and her office says it’s part of her promise to take a pragmatic approach to diplomacy and keep talking to countries with which Ottawa disagrees.
Statements from both countries recognized ongoing diplomatic strains while hinting the other side has caused the tensions.
Both countries still pledged to maintain open communication channels.
The two also discussed the Israel-Hamas conflict, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and co-operating in the fight against climate change.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, center, acknowledges Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, as they take their places for a group photo at the APEC Summit, in San Francisco, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. (Adrian Wyld/The Associated Press)Both countries have tasked officials with advancing next steps, such as having more exchanges between Chinese and Canadian people and co-operation in trade and biodiversity.
Nadjibulla said it’s a positive sign that both countries want further action, noting this was the first ministerial call since April 2022.
In March 2023 Joly also confronted Qin Gang, who was her Chinese counterpart at the time, during a summit in India, though it was not a formally arranged meeting.
The lack of dialogue has made Canada an outlier compared to Western allies and other G7 countries, which have regular, high-level exchanges with Beijing.
The new statements pledging more communication follow years of diplomatic strain between the two countries.
Beijing detained Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig from late 2018 until fall 2021 and imposed multi-year bans on certain Canadian imports, in what was widely seen as retaliation for the Vancouver arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.
Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor stand as they are recognized before President Joe Biden speaks to the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, on March 24, 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AP Photo)China has also rejected phrasing in Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which in late 2022 deemed the country to be “an increasingly disruptive global power” that “increasingly disregards” international rules and norms.
Last year, the Chinese government excluded Canada from a move to loosen restrictions on group travel abroad, arguing Ottawa had “hyped up” allegations of foreign interference.
In an English translation of the Thursday readout by China’s foreign ministry published in state media, Wang is quoted as saying that both countries have important influence in the Asia-Pacific region. He claimed that the two countries don’t have conflicting interests or historical fights.
Nadjibulla said these are all positive signs China is open to improving relations with Canada, as China comes out of a difficult economic year and seeks better ties with multiple countries.
“It’s good for Canada to be recognized as a country with influence in the region. It means that our Indo-Pacific strategy obviously is having some early impact, because that is precisely the intent,” she said.
But she said Joly’s statement doesn’t change the trajectory of Canada’s China policy, which includes pursuing closer economic ties with other Asian countries, given Canada’s view that China is a disruptive global power.
China lays out ways Canada could improve relationsWang also laid out three ways Ottawa could improve relations, some of which Nadjibulla said will be difficult or impossible for Canadians.
The first involves “correct cognition,” with Canada recognizing it has caused a diplomatic rift, though Wang didn’t elaborate on how.
The Liberals disagree with this characterization, arguing that China holds different values and is disrupting the global order. Wang says China isn’t challenging international rules and instead is seeking development.
“This is such a bizarre idea, essentially telling Canada and Canadians how to think about China, and that we need to have the correct thinking in order to be able to have good relations with them,” Nadjibulla said. “I find that quite troubling.”
The second is “mutual respect” which Wang said involves recognizing Taiwan as part of China and working constructively, “so as not to let differences dominate bilateral relations.”
The third is to focus on “win-win co-operation” such as avoiding the “pan-security of economic issues” and the politicization of trade.
“It’s a veiled reference to our policy of de-risking and diversifying from China,” Nadjibulla said.