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Freeland calls on ‘all Canadian officials’ to discuss detainees with Chinese counterparts

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Canada’s foreign affairs minister called on “all Canadian officials” to advocate for the two Canadians detained in China at a stop in Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S., on Thursday.

Chrystia Freeland told reporters that government officials should be talking about the arbitrary detention of the two Canadians when meeting with their Chinese counterparts.

“I think this is a responsibility all Canadian officials should feel, that we need to be sure that China knows that we hold them [the detained Canadians] in our hearts and that we are advocating for them,” Freeland said.
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Ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor have been detained in China since December 2018 and are accused of violating the country’s national security. Their detention came in the wake of worsening relations between Canada and China after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an American request for her extradition.

Freeland made the comments in Nova Scotia, where Premier Stephen McNeil has been criticized for travelling to China in recent months and taking meetings with the country’s ambassador to Canada without raising the issue of the detainees.

McNeil has told reporters that it is best to maintain a dialogue and try to build relationships with China.

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Freeland acknowledges the importance of China as a trading partner for Nova Scotia in particular. The province’s exports to China totalled $792 million in 2018, including $505 million in seafood.

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But she also pointed out that other countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom, are advocating on behalf of Kovrig and Spavor in bilateral meetings.

“Canada has been very effective in building an international coalition of partners and allies who go out of their way to advocate on behalf of the detained Canadians,” she said.

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Freeland says she raised the issue in a recent meeting with her Chinese counterpart.

McNeil is planning to lead a trade delegation to China in the fall, his eighth trip to the country since being elected in 2013.

McNeil wasn’t available for an interview, but in a statement said, “We continue to see dialogue as a critical aspect of dealing with challenges between Canada and China and hope the national governments will continue to work to resolve these issues.”

— With files from the Canadian Press