Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says western countries do not need to “continue to allow” Chinese global aggression.
That statement comes as a Canadian parliamentary delegation is in China and is pushing for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, both detained by China in December 2018 and who have been allowed only limited consular visits since then.
“China is making stronger moves than it has before to try and get its own way on the world stage,” Trudeau said when asked during a Tuesday press conference in Quebec about the push for the release of the detained Canadians, which has garnered broad support from allied countries speaking out to condemn China.
“Western countries and democracies around the world are pulling together to point out that this is not something we need to continue to allow.”
But it is not clear exactly how Trudeau might plan to counter Chinese aggression, which had included not only hostage diplomacy but broader refusals to recognize international norms and rulings such as those related to the South China Sea.
WATCH: China formally arrests Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor for ‘spying’
In an interview with CBC’s Metro Morning on Tuesday, Freeland said her parliamentary secretary, Rob Oliphant, is in China and working to engage with the authorities there on the arrests, which the Canadian government calls illegal and arbitrary.
Her spokesperson added that the visit is in Oliphant’s capacity as a member of the Canada-China Legislative Association, which is currently on a visit to China.
“Parliamentary Secretary Rob Oliphant is part of this delegation and has raised Canada’s strong concerns regarding the arbitrary detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor during his meetings with Chinese government officials,” Adam Austen, Freeland’s press secretary, wrote in an email.
The trip is scheduled to wrap up on May 25.
WATCH: Canada condemns ‘arbitrary’ arrest of detained Canadians in China
Kovrig, a diplomat on leave, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, were detained by China in December 2018 just days after Canadian border officials detained Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver at the behest of American authorities.
The U.S. Department of Justice has since charged Meng and her company with 23 counts of skirting U.S. sanctions on Iran and stealing trade secrets.
Beijing has demanded the release of Meng despite the fact that extradition requests between the U.S. and Canada are a matter of routine legal proceeding.
Global Affairs Canada officials have said Canada extradites almost all of the requests made by the U.S.
But Beijing has tended in recent years towards hostage diplomacy, including in the case of Kevin and Julia Garratt, which mirrors the current case in several ways.
The Garratts, Canadians who had lived in China since the 1980s, were detained in China in August 2014 after Canadian authorities arrested Su Bin, a Chinese businessman living in Richmond, B.C., in June 2014 at the behest of the Americans.
According to the FBI, Su had been hacking into the computer systems of military contractors in the U.S. to steal secrets, and he pleaded guilty to doing so in February 2016. Both of the Garratts were released several months later in September.
Kevin Garratt told the West Block over the weekend that if his case if any example, Canadian officials need to keep the issue in the forefront of all dealings with the Chinese until the matter is resolved.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has also pressed Trudeau to take more specific actions to pressure China into releasing Kovrig and Spavor, such as revoking promised funding to the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Bank.
Brock Harrison, director of communications for Scheer said following the prime minister’s remarks that Trudeau hasn’t been taking the threat China poses to the international order seriously enough.
“For years, Justin Trudeau has ignored the security threat the Chinese government poses to Canada and he’s allowed China to push Canada around,” Harrison said “It’s time for him to show some leadership and finally stand up to China.”