I call this meeting to order. Welcome to meeting number seven of the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations. Pursuant to the motion adopted on Wednesday, September 23, 2020, the committee is meeting on its study of Canada-China relations.
Today's meeting is in a hybrid format. The meeting is also televised and will be available on the House of Commons website.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few rules to follow.
Members and witnesses may speak in the official language of their choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English or French. Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. If you are participating by video conference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute yourself.
Let me remind you that all comments from members of the committee and from witnesses must be addressed through the chair.
I would ask you to speak slowly and clearly.
When you're not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
I'd now like to welcome the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, along with Marta Morgan, deputy minister; and Weldon Epp, director general, north Asia and Oceania bureau.
Thank you all.
Thank you very much for joining us.
I now invite the minister to make his opening statement.
Mr. Minister, the floor is yours.
Honourable members and colleagues, it is a great pleasure for me to join you this evening. Thank you for inviting me to testify before you today.
The work that you are doing here is important, because the relationship between Canada and China is important for Canadians.
I would first like to thank the officials who are with me today. Thank you for your time and thank you, also, for serving Canada. I also want to take a moment to thank Ambassador Barton and our team in the different missions in China and our diplomats in China who did extraordinary work, as I recall, in the first phase of their repatriation from Wuhan.
Mr. Chair and honourable members, thank you for the invitation to appear in front of you today. The work you do, as I was saying, is crucial because the relationship between Canada and China is important to all Canadians. The countries that make up the Indo-Pacific region are drivers of economic prosperity for Canada and for the world.
By some estimates, just 10 years from now, Asia will account for roughly 60% of the world's economic growth. The bilateral and multilateral relationships we foster and the region's stability create jobs, open up markets, connect communities and support Canadian families here at home. As the world's second-largest economy and home to 1.4 billion people, China is a key actor in the region and beyond.
This year marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and China. Fifty years later, I don't think anyone would say this is an easy relationship. Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have now been arbitrarily detained for almost two years.
Our relationship with China is a complex and difficult one, not just for Canada, but for democracies around the world. China is changing rapidly before our eyes.
We recognize China's growing influence on the world stage as a global hub for manufacturing, trade and lending, and the single-largest trading nation in the world. It is the first trading partner for an astonishing 124 countries. It is the first trading partner in Africa, second in Latin America, and it is also an important trading partner for Canada, for both exports and imports. Bilateral trade in goods and services between Canada and China has increased eightfold over the last 20 years.
In addition, China can be a key player on the world stage in the fight against climate change, COVID-19, or to ensure the stability of financial markets and global economic development.
With significant assistance funding in Africa and Latin America, it gives China growing clout in the developing world. As an example, as part of its belt and road initiative, China has signed co-operation agreements with 138 countries to build infrastructure that will connect it to developing countries. China's banks have already provided loans worth over $461 billion, raising many concerns over debt sustainability, transparency and international standards on labour and the environment.
China's ambition even reaches the Arctic region, where it aims to develop shipping lanes, calling it the polar silk road. This is a new reality that we need to take into account and thus engage with China with eyes wide open, as I have said on a number of occasions.
The China of 2020 is not the China of 2015, or even the China of 2018.
Its rise has brought with it troubling threats to human rights, to long-standing agreements of autonomy [Technical difficulty—Editor] and to the international institutions that underpin the rules-based order of which Canada is a steadfast promoter. We see a country and a leadership increasingly prepared to throw its weight around to advance its interest.
This includes the use of coercive diplomacy, like the arbitrary detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. This, however, is not a sentiment unique to me or to Canada. Democracies around the world are rethinking their own relationship with China.
Multilateralism will be key to ensuring global stability and security in a world in which China is a powerful actor. That's why we are working with like-minded countries to defend the rules-based international order and ensure that China abides by its obligations under international human rights law. When dealing with China, we will be firmly guided by Canadian interests, our fundamental values and principles, including human rights, as well as by global rules and strategic partnerships.
Let me be clear. The safety and security of Canadians at home and abroad will always be at the heart of our approach.
Tactics such as coercive diplomacy, including arbitrary detention, are unacceptable in the conduct of state-to-state relations. This is something I have raised not just with our allies, but directly with my Chinese counterpart.
We do, and we will continue to, challenge China when human rights are violated, and we will always protect Canadians when it comes to our national security, compete with our innovative businesses and the abundant resources that allow us to do so, and co-operate on global challenges such as climate change, because there is no easy path forward without China.
More than 700 days have passed since then, and we remain deeply concerned by the arbitrary arrest and detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, as well as the arbitrary sentencing of Mr. Schellenberg. We continue to call for the immediate release of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor and for clemency for Mr. Schellenberg, as we do for all Canadians facing the death penalty.
I know that all members of this committee, indeed all Canadians, are angered by the detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor and concerned for their well-being. I would also like to acknowledge the resilience demonstrated by their families and their support at every step of the way.
Finally, after many months, we recently secured on-site virtual consular access to Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. This is something I personally raised in a meeting with my counterpart, State Councilor Wang Yi, in Rome in August this year, and on which we worked tirelessly.
Since October, Ambassador Barton has on two occasions travelled to the prisons in which they are being held to lead virtual on-site visits to personally confirm the health and well-being of these two Canadians while they remain unjustly detained. This is a very important development and we continue to work very hard to secure their release.
Turning to Hong Kong, the imposition of the new national security law in Hong Kong has raised significant concerns about the future of Hong Kong’s independent judiciary, the future of human rights and freedoms in the special administrative region, the integrity of the “one country, two systems” framework, and Hong Kong’s role as a global hub.
On November 11, we condemned China’s removal of four democratically elected lawmakers from office in Hong Kong. It is an assault on Hong Kong’s freedoms under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Alongside our partners, we continue to call on Chinese authorities to uphold international human rights obligations. We have been at the forefront of the international response to the national security law, issuing—often at our urging—statements alongside Australia, the U.K., the United States, the G7 and the Five Eyes, at the Human Rights Council and, most recently, at the UN General Assembly’s third committee.
We were also the first to suspend our extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and we have announced a series of other measures, including export control measures and an update on travel advice for the region.
Last week, you heard from my colleague on the immigration measures we have put in place. Our response to both Hong Kong and China is one that crosses many departments and requires significant coordination.
As all of you, I am sure, I have been alarmed by the reports of gross human rights violations in Xinjiang. The violations target Uighurs and other Muslim minorities on the basis of their religion and ethnicity.
Publicly and privately, in multilateral and bilateral dialogues, we have called on the Chinese government to end the repression in Xinjiang. I have raised this directly with my Chinese counterpart, most recently in Rome this summer at a meeting called at my request. In September at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, we raised concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. In October, we were one of 39 countries signing the third committee's declaration at the UN General Assembly in New York, which referenced Xinjiang. [Technical difficulty—Editor] for human rights.
I would have a lot to say, Mr. Chair. I don't know how much time I have.
Certainly, I don't think you need to go back to the 1970s. As I was saying, and I think all members would recognize, the China of 2016 is not the China of 2020. The China of 2018 is not the China of 2020, because in between we have had, obviously, the arbitrary detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and the arbitrary sentencing of Mr. Schellenberg. We have had the case of the Uighurs, which came to the forefront of the international community. We have also had, obviously, the imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong, which puts in question the “one country, two systems” policy and the freedom and liberties that have been enjoyed. There's been a lot happening.
I think the role of this committee, and certainly my role, is to also look at China in the short, medium and long term. I think when you're talking about international relations, you have to think certainly about the long term. This year marks 50 years, as you mentioned. It's a sober moment, because when you have two Canadians who have been arbitrarily detained for close to two years, the hearts and minds of Canadians are with them and their families, who have been struggling all that time.
At the same time, we need to think as well about how we're going to engage with a country like China. What I was trying to say at the beginning was that this challenge, to go back to Mr. Chong's question, is not unique to Canada. I must say that the question of how we're going to do that is a topic we discuss at every meeting we have with those who are like-minded.
You mentioned climate change. We mentioned a number of areas in which we're going to either challenge, coexist or co-operate, and that is really the work that we need to do now. Many have said that the best way to address this geopolitical issue of our time is to work with those who are like-minded. That's what you've seen Canada doing. You've seen that many of our statements have been with our allies in Europe, the United States, the U.K., Australia, or New Zealand, because one thing that Canadians at home need to really get is that this is not unique to Canada.
I've often said that Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are not only two Canadians; they're two citizens of a liberal democracy. That's why this is not a bilateral issue but a multilateral issue. Are we going to stand up for freedom and liberty and defend human rights together? That's really what we're talking about, and that's why I quoted some numbers. Obviously these numbers tell a story, but we need to act together to see how we're going to be able, as liberal democracies, to face some of these issues together.
Mr. Minister, thank you once again for your generosity, for the time you are giving us and for the fact that you are staying with us until the end of our meeting today. We are very grateful to you.
As you know, the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development agreed, after an in-depth study, that the treatment of the Uighurs, specifically, is, in practice, a genocide. Similarly, in the United States, elected officials in both parties have come to basically the same conclusion about the Uighurs, the Kazakhs, the Kyrgyz, and other Muslim minorities, to say nothing of the Falun Gong practitioners.
The American president-elect, Joe Biden, recently said this:
The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China's abusive behaviours and human rights violations.
Earlier, you spoke about the necessity for Canada and the Western democracies—as we can call them—to present a common front so as not to be isolated from each other.
In that context, where are we in building that common front of Western democracies to face up to the People's Republic of China?
Thank you for asking that timely question, Mr. Bergeron.
This is a subject that always comes up whenever I am talking with my colleagues in the liberal democracies around the world, particularly those in Europe. We wonder how we can best organize ourselves and work together to address those challenges. A number of countries, including Canada, share the same values and the same principles and they are concerned by the same questions that you raised. We are certainly examining what we can do in the light of the new American administration.
To deal with those violations of human rights, whether it's about the Uighurs, about Tibet or about Hong Kong, the smart response is to work together, meaning that the liberal democracies must organize themselves to form a common front against those abuses. The issues are not bilateral, they are multilateral.
For example, when I am asked whether I have done anything regarding the Uighurs, my answer is yes. I have spoken to the representative of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, who can ask to have access to the territory to report to the international community what she has observed. The statement signed by 38 countries at the third meeting of the United Nations committee in New York is also encouraging. In a common statement, representatives from 38 countries expressed their concern, in quite strong terms, about the situation in Hong Kong and about the Uighurs.
That shows exactly what you have just said, Mr. Bergeron, that the international community or, at any rate, the community of liberal democracies, shares the same values and principles as Canada and they want to stand together to tackle those issues.
I missed part of your question, but I'm sure it was a good question. As parliamentary secretary, you're doing outstanding work, and all the compliments with respect to repatriation, a good share of them, should come back to you, because you've been doing extraordinary work on behalf of Canadians.
You're quite right. Part of my role is to restore market access, whether it's seafood, canola or pork. That's something that has not been mentioned tonight, but we saw exports going up about 4.2% compared to 2019, if I recall correctly.
In fact, one of our jobs, not just my job, but the job of this committee.... If you're going to look at the Canada-China relationship, you also have to look—as you said quite rightly, Mr. Oliphant—at defending the interests of our fishers on the east coast, our farmers in the west, whether you're a pork producer, a seafood reseller, or a canola producer. Part of our job as parliamentarians on this committee is to look at how we can restore market access, how we can diversify access within China, work with our trade commissioner, work with our mission, and how we can diversify outside of China, as well.
Mr. Chong mentioned the CPTPP. You're quite right that our role, when you talk about defending interests, is to defend the interests of our exporters, entrepreneurs, farmers and fishers. Obviously, that's part of my work.