The British High Commissioner to Canada says it’s crucial for allies to remain united in their dealings with an increasingly aggressive China.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque said the British government is working “as closely as it possibly can” with Canada on how best to address tensions with China amid its ongoing detention of two Canadians, as well as a British consulate worker.
“I think the most important thing is to maintain a united front and not allow anybody to divide us,” she said, stressing the need to be “saying the same thing consistently” in how allied countries react to Chinese activities.
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How to tackle Chinese aggression has been a major topic on the agenda for world leaders as they gathered over the weekend in Biarritz, France, for the G7.
Just days prior to that meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland hosted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Ottawa, where both sides made it clear they will continue speaking out about the threat of Chinese incursion into Hong Kong amid pro-democracy rallies, and as Beijing continues to hold two Canadians in detention on widely-condemned accusations of endangering national security.
China seized Michael Kovrig, a Global Affairs Canada employee, and entrepreneur Michael Spavor in December 2018.
Those detentions came just days after Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the U.S., which charged her and her company the following month with 23 counts of corporate espionage and skirting sanctions on Iran.
And a little over two weeks ago, China also detained a staff member from the British consulate in Hong Kong.
Simon Cheng Man-kit, a trade and investment officer at the British consulate in Hong Kong, travelled to the mainland for work but was detained by China on accusations of violating public order, which a Chinese state publisher has claimed was related to soliciting prostitution.
Le Jeune d’Allegeershecque said Britain has not been able to meet with Cheng, who is a locally-engaged staff at the consulate.
Canada has since barred its own locally-engaged staff at the consulate in Hong Kong from any work travel to mainland China.
“We are extremely concerned about his detention, and we have spoken to the Chinese authorities in Beijing and the authorities in Hong Kong, and the foreign secretary will undoubtedly be talking about this with his counterparts when he’s in Biarritz,” she said, adding she doesn’t think his case is directly linked to the U.K.’s statements of support for Canada against the detentions of Kovrig and Spavor.
“I think it is part of a wider pattern of behaviour and I think it’s much more likely in this case it’s connected with what’s been happening in Hong Kong with the pro-democracy protests.”
Hong Kong is a former British colony that was handed over to Beijing under an agreement which states while it will be part of China, Hong Kong will maintain its own system of economics and governance, which is less restrictive than in China but still short of full democracy.
Increasing interference by China in Hong Kong affairs has prompted repeated protests over the years, with the current unrest stretching into its third month.
China has begun referring to the pro-democracy protesters as terrorists in recent weeks, prompting concerns it could seek to clamp down.
“The way to resolve this is through dialogue, it’s not through threats of violence,” said Le Jeune d’Allegeershecque.
“We have to make sure whatever we do does not inflame the situation further. So I think we have to be very diplomatic, obviously, but also very measured in our responses.”
“We don’t make things worse but at the same time we need to make it very clear we are deeply concerned about what’s been happening, and to make it very clear that if there are, if there is a more violent reaction from whoever to what’s been going on, then there will be consequences.”
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