OTTAWA—Canada will co-ordinate its coming Indo-Pacific strategy with allies like South Korea to align on human rights and trade so China doesn’t pit one country against another vying for “bits of access” to the world’s largest market, says Prime Secretary Justin Trudeau.
Standing next to Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Trudeau said “it makes sense” to work with others on a more “nuanced” approach as Canada seeks to co-operate with China on issues like environment and climate change. But he said Ottawa would continue to challenge Beijing’s ruling Communist Party on economic and trade issues, human rights and respect for the “international rules-based order.”
His remarks Friday came on a day when Trudeau tried to press reset on the Canada-China relationship with the appointment of a new ambassador Jennifer May, after the post stood empty for nine months.
“I think for too long, China and other autocracies have been able to play off neighbors and friends against each other by offering bits of access to their market for this product from this country, but not from the others. And the time is now where we actually look to co-ordinate strategically …for example, a high level of environmental responsibility in their goods and their services and their actions, a high level of labor standards and human rights respect,” Trudeau told reporters.
At a news conference following meetings with Yoon, along with their ministers of foreign affairs, economic and industry, Trudeau said “we can be economic partners, great economic partners, without having to depend on totalitarian regimes, such as China or others.”
Yoon said his government wants to bolster trade with Canada to establish reliable supply chains in clean energy, critical minerals and artificial intelligence. “Canada, the global leader in the production of minerals, and Korea, a major semiconductor and battery maker, each play crucial roles in global supply chains,” he said.
Yoon echoed Trudeau on co-operation as his country also develops a new Indo-Pacific strategy, saying he wants to avoid an overreliance on countries that don’t share the same values, “therefore finding stable sources of critical materials, strategically speaking, is important for both our nations,” Yoon said, through an interpreter.
On Friday, Trudeau formally named career diplomat Jennifer May to head Canada’s embassy in Beijing — an appointment aimed at putting the Canada-China relationship back on a more professional diplomatic footing after years of strained relations following the Meng Wanzhou affair and the nearly three-year detention of “the two Michaels” — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, released a year ago.
In an interview with the Star, May said she intends to press Canada’s concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang province, Tibet, as well as concerns about legal rights in Hong Kong, and religious freedoms of other minorities.
Trudeau made clear his government is no longer looking to devise a China-specific policy when it comes to its international engagement in Asia and the Pacific.
“It doesn’t need to be aimed at any particular country,” said Trudeau. “But if we’re saying, we’re going to do more work with like-minded partners who are also concerned about protecting our planet, protecting the well being of a future generation, standing up for human rights and the rights of workers, well, then naturally, we get to do an awful lot more together.”
May, fluent in English, French, German and Mandarin, is a respected veteran of the Canadian foreign service who most recently was posted in Brazil and Europe. Trudeau highlighted her “deep understanding of Asia” after previous diplomatic postings in Hong Kong, Beijing and Bangkok in his public announcement of her appointment.
Alongside Yoon, Trudeau said Canada on Monday deployed the naval ship HMCS Vancouver to begin Operation NEON, a deployment to monitor the enforcement of UN sanctions against North Korea to pressure that country to abandon its missile program.
“At a time of growing conflict and uncertainty, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to nuclear deterrence in the Korean Peninsula and around the world.”
Trudeau also condemned the actions of Russia in Ukraine, slamming the “fake” and “sham” referendums in Russian-occupied territories as illegitimate and a pretext to allow Russia to falsely claim Ukrainian defense forces are invading Russian territory.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION