Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says she wants to talk to China’s foreign minister about the two detained Canadians China has accused of undermining its national security.
That discussion hasn’t happened yet, Freeland told the House of Commons foreign-affairs committee Tuesday.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been in Chinese custody since December, held in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an extradition warrant from the United States.
“When it comes to my contacts with my Chinese counterparts, I have spoken on a few occasions directly with the Chinese ambassador to Canada,” Freeland said.
WATCH: Freeland pressed on timeline of Huawei CFO detainment, Canadian arrests
“I would be happy at any time to have a direct conversation with Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister. We have been clear with the Chinese authorities that we are prepared for that conversation at any time.”
Canada isn’t the only country that has dealt with the Chinese government’s practice of holding off on meetings “at the highest levels,” she added.
And she praised Kovrig and Spavor, whom Canadian diplomats have seen about once a month each since their detentions, for their courage and resourcefulness in custody.
Freeland was appearing before the committee to talk about Global Affairs Canada’s spending plans for the coming year – those meetings often turn into wide-ranging examinations of ministers’ performances.
WATCH: Detainment of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou not ‘political’: Freeland
In one testy exchange, Conservative MP Erin O’Toole noted diplomatic battles with Saudi Arabia over Freeland’s criticism of its human-rights record and the Philippines over falsely labelled Canadian trash that’s been festering in ports there for six years. The Saudis expelled Canada’s ambassador last summer and the Philippines called its ambassador home earlier this month.
There’s a “garbage flotilla” about to set sail from Manila, bound for Canada, O’Toole pointed out.
“How are we engaging if countries are not talking to us, if they’re expelling their ambassador or they’re not taking us seriously?” he asked.
The situations with China, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines are all distinct, Freeland replied.
“The world is at a worrying inflection point,” she said. “We are at a time when authoritarian regimes are on the rise, when liberal democracy is under assault, and when the rules-based international order is under threat … Canada is doing a lot in that environment.”
She said Canada has signed three major trade deals in a starkly protectionist environment, has built new alliances as old ones weaken and is consistently standing up for human rights, even when that has consequences.