OTTAWA – High seas geopolitical tensions in Asia and free trade aspirations will hang over the arrival of China’s foreign minister in Ottawa today for talks with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is set to meet his Canadian counterpart, Stephane Dion, but will also pay a visit to Trudeau’s Parliament Hill office.
Visiting foreign ministers usually stick to talking to their counterparts, but Trudeau’s insertion into Wang’s itinerary shows the importance the government is placing on China at a pivotal time.
Wang’s visit to Ottawa comes just a week after China expressed its unhappiness with the declaration made at last week’s G7 leaders’ summit in Japan, where Trudeau sided with the group in expressing concern about the rising tensions in the South China Sea.
Several countries in the region oppose Chinese assertive posture, with Japan particularly taking umbrage over the Beijing’s claims in the East China Sea. This is significant because the disputed waters also include important international shipping lanes.
Beijing may have taken exception to the G7’s stand on the dispute, but it also has high ambitions for deepening economic ties with Canada, including a free trade deal.
Trudeau made positive strides with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his first round of international travel last fall. The Chinese leader praised the vision of Trudeau’s father, Pierre, for establishing diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic in 1970 during a meeting at the G20 in Turkey.
The bonhomie followed a decade of unease in Sino-Canadian relations under the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper, which had a rocky start before Canadian business pushed, and got greater political engagement.
China’s ambassador to Canada, Luo Zhaohui, expressed unbridled optimism about the arrival of the Trudeau Liberals during a speech to the Rideau Club in Ottawa this past December.
“Some Canadian media keep asking me if I have greater expectations for China-Canada relations after Canada’s new government took office. My answer is yes,” the envoy said.
“At the policy level, we need to start the negotiation and conclusion of a free trade agreement sooner rather than later.”
Dion’s office says he and Wang will launch a foreign affairs ministers dialogue, which it bills as “an important new platform for expanding high-level engagement between the two countries.” They will discuss a wide range of issues, including global security and China’s role as host of the G20 summit later this year.
Dion will also raise human rights concerns, which will likely include addressing some thorny consular cases.
These include the jailing of democracy rights activist Wang Bingzhang, a graduate of Montreal’s McGill University, who has many Canadian relatives, as well as Canadian Kevin Garratt, who is charged with espionage and Huseyin Celil, a Canadian who has promoted the rights of China’s Uighur minority.