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Biden’s Keystone XL decision could be ‘tough’ moment for Canada, U.S. ties: senator

Click to play video 'Biden to push for united front to take on China: Senator Coons' Biden to push for united front to take on China: Senator Coons
WATCH: Biden to push for united front to take on China: Senator Coons

If president-elect Joe Biden follows through on a campaign promise to kill the Keystone XL pipeline, it could prove a challenging moment for the Canada-U.S. relationship, says one prominent Democrat.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said while he is confident Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have a “very good relationship,” there will be pressure points and one of those could well be any decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

“A commitment to combating climate change is a core plank of the Biden-Harris incoming administration … and the Keystone XL pipeline plays a role in that,” said Coons, who spoke ahead of a virtual appearance at the Halifax International Security Forum.

“I’m going to have to leave that to serious and earnest and prompt negotiations between the incoming administration and the Canadian government, rather than my saying on a Sunday show what I believe will be the right thing for him to do, but that’s going to be a tough relationship moment for us.”

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Biden has long opposed the pipeline, which would move roughly 830,000 barrels a day of oil from Alberta to Nebraska, criticizing the “tarsands” as a “very, very high pollutant” in an interview with CNBC.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan has said the Canadian government will continue advocating for the pipeline to the American government, and is “unwavering” in support for the project.

READ MORE: Canada’s support for Keystone XL ‘unwavering’ regardless of U.S. election: O’Regan

While Biden will not be inaugurated until Jan. 20, speculation is rife about who will be part of his cabinet.

Coons has been frequently mentioned in American media reports as among the possible contenders for the top post of secretary of state, a powerful post equivalent to a foreign affairs minister.

He has also been a vocal proponent of a bipartisan approach to “out-compete” China and noted that while there are areas where the U.S. will need to be able to work together with Beijing, the U.S. also needs “to prepare for the possibility of conflict with China.”

Coons, who currently sits on the U.S. Senate’s foreign relations committee, said it is clear at this point that the Chinese regime has no respect for the rule of law and that drawing allies closely together in a coordinated response will likely be a key focus going forward.

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“I think, first, that we are deeply grateful to our trusted partners in Canada for respecting the concerns raised by the United States in this warrant and for the ways in which this has challenged the Canadian-Chinese relationship,” said Coons, referring to the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.

“The Chinese response, arresting without real basis — in fact, or law — Canadian citizens is just one more step that shows how under Xi Jinping, China has become more aggressive, not just regionally, but globally. They don’t respect intellectual property. They don’t respect the rule of law.”

Read more: Canadian ambassador granted virtual visits to 2 Michaels detained in China

“They, frankly, have coloured outside the lines of the international system for far too long. And president-elect Biden sees clearly the challenges that all of us who represent free societies, open market democracies, the challenge that we face from China,” Coons continued.

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“I believe he’ll pull our partners and our allies closer together to come up with a coordinated strategy.”

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Canada arrested Meng in December 2018 at the behest of American authorities, who have charged her and her company with dozens of counts related to allegedly violating sanctions on Iran and stealing corporate secrets. China arbitrarily detained two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — several days after Meng’s arrest in what officials from Beijing have repeatedly suggested was retaliation.

The arrest of Meng was in keeping with the longstanding extradition treaty between Canada and the U.S., under which Canadian courts have historically approved some 90 per cent of extradition requests.

Read more: Trudeau says no regrets for respecting treaty with arrest of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said it is clear China “doesn’t seem to understand” the concept of judicial independence that underwrites the Canadian legal system.

“Do you think that might include dropping the extradition request for Meng Wanzhou or would it look more like president-elect Biden pushing harder on China to release the two Michaels?” asked Stephenson.

Coons said he can’t speak to what Biden might do but that “if it were up to me, I would be pressing harder on the Chinese to release these two Canadians who are held without cause and frankly, to consult closely with Prime Minister Trudeau, someone who I view as a close and trusted ally.”

“But frankly, in consultation with a partner and ally, we’d be asking — the president-elect would be asking — exactly what is in Canada’s best interest, as well as what’s in the United States best interests.”

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