Canada’s new foreign minister says he will work with the incoming Biden administration in Washington to find ways to help two Canadian men imprisoned by China.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau, the former NASA astronaut who lived nearly a decade in the United States, made the commitment as he took over the portfolio from Francois-Philippe Champagne in Tuesday’s cabinet shuffle.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been in Chinese prisons since December 2018 on what Canada and its allies say are trumped-up national security charges in retaliation for the RCMP’s arrest of Chinese high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.
Champagne’s term as foreign minister ended with a diplomatic bang on Tuesday as he joined his British counterpart, Dominic Raab, in announcing measures aimed at China that would prevent the import of goods produced under forced labour from places such as China’s Xinjiang province.
That includes mass internment camps for Muslim Uighurs in the province, video surveillance, forced labour and the mass sterilizations of women.
China denies it is doing anything wrong in Xinjiang.
Canada’s partnership with Britain on targeting human-rights abuses in China is the result of Champagne’s efforts to build new coalitions with other allies as the Trump administration in Washington pursued an “America first” foreign policy that disrupted traditional international co-operation.
Champagne has also led a more hawkish approach on China as the People’s Republic remained implacable in considering any leniency for the “two Michaels” unless Canada bowed to its pressure and released Meng.
Britain and Canada have teamed up on denouncing China’s clampdown on democracy in Hong Kong and sanctioning Russia for its poisoning of Alexei Navalny, a critic of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Britain has been a traditional ally of Canada and Champagne went to great lengths to strengthen the relationship, including travelling to Britain last summer during the COVID-19 pandemic to meet Raab personally.
On Tuesday, Garneau said he’s keen to rekindle Canada’s priority alliance with the U.S. under a new Biden administration.
Garneau comes to the portfolio after having already chaired the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations, including during the tumultuous renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump repeatedly threatened to tear up.
“I believe very, very strongly that no bilateral relationship is more important than that of Canada with the United States and it will continue to be that way,” Garneau said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2021.