Canada’s Small Business Minister Mary Ng wrapped up a two-day visit to China to promote Canadian small business Wednesday, even as the Chinese government was scolding Canada for trying to get U.S. President Donald Trump to help spring two jailed Canadians, one of whom is a small business operator.
Ng’s presence and participation at a World Economic Forum conference in the northeast China city of Dalian drew criticism from her Conservative opponents, particularly after she published cheery tweets from China promoting a Canadian ice cream maker.
“I think sending the minister of small business over to China for a small business conference when one of our small business people are currently being held in jail isn’t appropriate, doesn’t make sense, and is not showing what we need to show right now which is strength,” Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt said in an interview from Toronto.
Trudeau’s office would not say if any consideration had been made to suspend ministerial visits while Canadians Michael Spavor, a business operator, and Michael Kovrig, a diplomat and research, are essentially being held hostage by a Chinese government furious at Canada for detaining Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from the United States.
But Jim Carr, the minister for trade diversification, told reporters in Montreal that far from suspending ministerial visits to China, Canada is keen that there be more of them.
“We’re waiting to be invited to China and to be offered ministerial visas so that we can send delegations to China to talk about a whole variety of issues,” Carr said.
Carr and Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau met with Canadian meat producers about China’s ban, announced last week, of Canadian pork and beef imports. That meat ban has followed a ban of Canadian canola and Canadian soy products into China.
WATCH: Coverage of China–Canada relations on Global News
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing that Canada is to blame for the new low in Canada-China relations.
“Canada knows exactly what the crux of the problem is. We hope Canada can quickly enact measures to put China–Canada relations back on track as soon as possible,” Geng said.
Geng also called Canada “naive” for trying to enlist what Geng called “so-called allies” to pressure China to release the jailed Canadians.
In fact, Geng reminded reporters that China had already issued its account of the meeting between Xi and Trump — one that made no mention of Canada.
“Canada should not naively believe that mustering so-called allies to put pressure on China will have any effect,” Geng said.
In response, the Canadian government pushed back, with a source saying: “We do have confirmation that President Trump raised the issue in a clear and substantive way with President Xi.”
Meanwhile, neither Trump nor the White House has confirmed that Trump spoke to Xi about the Canadians.
As for Ng, her office said that while in China, she had planned to bring up the case of the jailed Canadians, while at the same time promoting Canadian-China business relationships as well as the broader Canada-Asia business relationship. At the World Economic Forum, Ng, who holds the portfolio of small business and export promotion, participated in four panel discussions, including one on Pacific Rim trade and one on plastics pollution.
Ng was accompanied on a portion of her trip to China by Sen. Peter Harder, a former president of the Canada-China Business Council who is now the government’s representative in the Senate.
—With a file from Reuters