The United States’ newly-confirmed ambassador to Canada says he expects both countries to be “aligned” in its policy towards China, including a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics spearheaded by Washington.
David Cohen made the comments after presenting his letters of credence Tuesday to Gov. Gen. Mary Simon in a ceremony at Rideau Hall, officially beginning his role as liaison between the two allies.
The White House on Monday announced it will not send any political representatives to next year’s Winter Games due to China’s human rights “atrocities,” though U.S. athletes will still be allowed to travel to Beijing to compete.
Cohen told reporters the U.S. announcement was “virtually identical” to comments Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made in November regarding Canada’s participation in the Games, and said he anticipates Ottawa will follow Washington’s lead.
“I have a high level of confidence that Canada and the United States will be aligned on our China policy, including our policy with respect to the Olympics,” he said.
Trudeau told reporters on Nov. 18 that while Canada has had “frustrations” with China’s recent actions — including the detention of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, for nearly two years — he recognizes that athletes have been training for the Games and wants to ensure they aren’t caught in the middle of the diplomatic dispute.
“We’re looking for a way to both be able to see (athletes) show their capacities and fulfill all the hard work that they’ve done for many years, while continuing to demonstrate our real concerns with the way the Chinese government has behaved,” he said.
On Monday, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole urged the federal government to join in the diplomatic boycott, a position supported by the NDP.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said on Monday that the question of whether to implement a diplomatic boycott is something Canada is still discussing with the U.S.
“Canada remains deeply disturbed by the troubling reports of human rights violations in China,” said press secretary Syrine Khoury in an email.
“We will continue to discuss this matter with our closest partner.”
Pascale St-Onge, the minister of sport, told journalists ahead of question period on Monday that no decision has yet been made on whether to join the U.S. in a diplomatic boycott.
China is facing growing global pressure over its persecution of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, its crushing of internal dissent — including in Hong Kong — and the arbitrary detentions of Kovrig and Spavor, who have since been released, in what was widely viewed as a hostage-taking related to Canada’s detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Cohen, a lawyer, lobbyist and former U.S. tech executive, is the first full-time U.S. ambassador in Ottawa since Donald Trump’s choice, Kelly Craft, decamped in August 2019 to serve the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.
During his confirmation hearings in Washington, Cohen suggested the Biden administration was growing impatient waiting for the release of Ottawa’s long-term China policy.
He also said he would be involved in discussions to “make sure that Canada’s policies reflect its words in terms of the treatment of China.”
— with files from Global’s Amanda Connolly and David Akin, and the Canadian Press