OTTAWA — China's growing authoritarianism and coercive diplomacy constitute a challenge to democratic countries around the world including Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said Monday.
Garneau told a parliamentary committee that Canada and other democracies are grappling with the question of how they reconcile their business, security and human-rights objectives with China.
"China of 2021 isn't the same China of 2016, and Canada's approach needs to evolve with an evolving China," he said, noting that China is rapidly gaining global influence and expanded clout with which all countries must learn to coexist.
"China’s economic might has emboldened its ambitions and interests beyond the Asia Pacific region, where it has enjoyed enormous clout for centuries, to span the entire globe, including here in Canada," he said.
Garneau said leaning to coexist with China means knowing when it's necessary to co-operate with that country on global issues such as climate change, and when to challenge Beijing over human-rights violations.
"It also implies challenging China when human rights are violated or Canadian citizens and interests are jeopardized," he said.
A path to any kind of long-term relationship with China requires the safe return of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to Canada, Garneau added.
"Bringing them home is and must remain our top priority in our dealings with China," he said.
The men, who have become known as the "two Michaels," were detained in December 2018, days after Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from the United States.
Garneau said both men received virtual visits two weeks ago from consular officials, but China has not allowed consular access to other Canadian citizens held in that country.
He said China should allow consular officials access to Huseyin Celil so Canada can confirm his well-being.
Celil, who settled in southern Ontario after becoming a Canadian citizen, is a former Uyghur activist who has been imprisoned in China for 15 years.
Garneau said China should put an end to the systematic campaign of repression against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in light of mounting evidence of forced labour, political re-education, torture and forced sterilization.
Growing competition with China and the pervasive use of digital technology forces Ottawa to work with other governments, businesses and universities to protect intellectual property, digital infrastructure, protect its democratic institutions from foreign interference and election meddling, he said.
"Hostile activities by state actors pose strategic, long-term threats to Canada," Garneau said. "They can undermine our nation’s economic, industrial, military and technological advantages."
Garneau said Canada is working with other G7 countries to counter foreign interference.
"We must continue to work with our partners around the world to protect the rules-based international order and defend human rights and freedoms."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 7, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press