Ottawa and Washington are prepared to “take on China” when it comes protecting defence and trade interests, but there remains work to do to catch up to Beijing’s lead on critical minerals development, the U.S. ambassador to Canada says.
In an interview Sunday with The West Block‘s host Mercedes Stephenson, David Cohen said if the two allies continued to work together and build on their successes, they will end up “being stronger and really moving the needle in 2023 and the years ahead.”
“There is no light between the two countries as to the importance of taking on China, competing against them more effectively, calling them out when they adopt non-rules based trade practices,” Cohen said.
“You sort of can’t leave the overall impression of the visit without realizing that Canada and the United States together are prepared to take on China when China needs to be taken on, to protect ourselves from a defence and a commercial capacity.”
His comments echoed those from Joe Biden, who wrapped up his first visit to Canada as the U.S. president this week.
During his two-day official visit, Biden held bilateral talks with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and on Friday addressed the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, saying the North American neighbours will “write the future together.”
China was among a range of issues that were on the table for the two leaders, as both U.S. and Canada are looking to become less reliant on Beijing for trade.
Cohen said China has a “big head start” in some areas, particularly the critical minerals sector, but there is a sense of urgency to take “one bite at a time” and catch up.
As part of that push, the two countries have launched a one-year task to accelerate cooperation on critical clean energy opportunities and supply chains.
A joint statement from Trudeau and Biden also stressed their commitment to competing “effectively with China on a level playing field.”
“Canada and the United States acknowledge the serious long-term challenge to the international order posed by the People’s Republic of China, including disruptive actions such as economic coercion, non-market policies and practices, and human rights abuses,” the statement released Friday said.
Tensions between Canada and China have escalated in recent weeks over allegations of foreign interference in recent federal elections.
“There are a lot of things that has been going on below the water level for many, many years by China in terms of influencing, interfering and meddling in Canadian affairs,” said Cheuk Kwan, co-chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China.
The meddling has not been limited to federal politics, but also threatened school board trustees, municipal mayors and councilors to the provincial government, Kwan said on The West Block.
“So this is something that I think we should be aware that, we’re not … barking up the wrong tree,” he said.
“We should be looking at what’s underneath that iceberg and really get a feel and understanding of perhaps the danger of such China’s meddling in our affairs.”
Another hot button issue has been the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who spent more 1,000 days in a Chinese prison over espionage charges.
Both were invited to a dinner in honour of the Biden’s visit Friday night and received a standing ovation in the House of Commons Friday, where they watched Biden’s address.
Biden lauded Canada for leading a coalition of nearly 70 countries endorsing the declaration against arbitrary detention in state-to-state relations in his speech.
“Our citizens are not bargaining chips, they’re not diplomatic leverage,” said Biden. “They’re human beings with lives and families that must be respected. And I’m very glad to see the two Michaels are safely back to their family.”
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