OTTAWA—As the United States and Australia raise alarms on trade and extradition with China, Canada’s new ambassador to Beijing said Wednesday Ottawa is eager to do “even more” than already suggested by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to improve formal relations.
In an interview with the Star, John McCallum, the former Markham MP and cabinet minister, signalled that Canada is charting a very different, more open and liberalized course with Beijing.
McCallum arrived in the Chinese capital 11 days ago, and presented his diplomatic credentials directly to President Xi Jinping within 24 hours of arrival.
He said their meeting lasted just five minutes, long enough to tell China’s top Communist government leader that he was there to deliver on Trudeau’s promise of a renewed relationship.
“I said on behalf of our prime minister that Canada wanted to expand and deepen its ties with China beyond what has been agreed to previously by the leaders, that we wanted to do more.”
“My slogan is more, more, more. We want to do more trade, more investment, more tourists, more co-operation in many areas, particularly in environment and climate change where both countries have an interest,” said McCallum.
He said Xi was clearly pleased by his message. McCallum tried out his beginner’s mandarin, and said the meeting was “very positive” but not long enough to raise human rights concerns. “I only had a few minutes in that first meeting,” he said, but added he has raised it “with other officials” since taking up his diplomatic post.
McCallum said Trudeau wants to increase two-way trade in several sectors immediately, even before exploratory talks on free trade get underway in earnest. Preliminary meetings were held in February, and the next round is set to take place in Canada, likely next month.
McCallum said the Canadian government can “walk and chew gum at the same time” — talking trade while promoting human rights with Beijing.
He said Trudeau has “made it clear that promoting and protecting human rights remains an integral part of our foreign policy and it remains a total priority,” and suggested any agreement — whether on trade or extradition — is a long way off and would take account of those concerns.
McCallum’s declarations stood in stark contrast to recent signs of a cooling relationship in Australia, and the conflicting and alternating positions taken by the new administration in Washington under President Donald Trump.
Trump has slammed China for unfair trade practices and expansionist moves in the South Pacific seas, yet courted its help to rein in North Korea. Trump is slated to meet with President Xi next week at a summit in his Florida resort. McCallum said it’s not entirely clear yet what position the Americans will take in Beijing as a new ambassador is not yet in place.
“The prime minister, as you know, is working very hard to secure a positive relationship with the United States and with President Trump but at the same time we are working to expand our ties with China because we think it’s good for Canada.”
McCallum said Canada “certainly noted” that the government of Australia, which has already signed a free trade deal with China, cancelled a parliamentary vote Tuesday to ratify an extradition treaty with China because it didn’t have enough support among its own Liberal Party members to win, due to concerns over human rights abuses and how China would treat fugitives handed over by Australia.
McCallum insisted Ottawa has “had concerns from the beginning” since the Liberal government agreed last September to look at a deal long sought by Beijing to legally transfer offenders between the two countries.
Human rights advocates are outraged that Canada would pursue such talks given China’s use of the death penalty and record of human rights violations.
McCallum downplayed the prospect of a quick resolution of the extradition issue.
“From the beginning, we have said we will discuss this with the Chinese but it’s a long, long path to any kind of negotiation or acceptance of this. Canada has very high standards on extradition treaties and these will be upheld with China or any other countries.”
He emphasized formal negotiations on an extradition treaty have not begun, despite the memorandum signed last fall. “We never said we would negotiate, we said we would have a conversation on this,” said McCallum. “But we’re a long way from any negotiations.”
“It’s the same as with our free trade agreement — we’ve had exploratory talks. We’ve not yet agreed to negotiations. Similarly on extradition, if the Chinese wish to talk to us about it, we will talk. But we have not agreed to negotiate any kind of extradition treaty.”
“The Chinese were very receptive in my conversation with the president and with other officials to this idea of moving quicker. And so I think, you know, it takes two to tango. And I think we are certainly enthusiastic to move forward and I think the other side is, too.”