Despite threats from China, Canada is not backing down in condemning the violence in Hong Kong, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.
“As a global community, we must recognize that China is a growing power and increasingly assertive towards its place in the international order,” Trudeau said during a foreign policy speech in Montreal.
“But make no mistake: We will always defend Canadians and Canadian interests.
“We do not escalate, but we also don’t back down.”
There are approximately 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong.
Over the weekend, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her European Union counterpart Federica Mogherini issued a joint press release urging China to allow peaceful protests and calling for restraint amid “a rising number of unacceptable violent incidents”.
The protests started about 11 weeks ago.
China took immediate umbrage, warning Canada in a statement on the Chinese embassy’s website to “stop meddling” in Hong Kong affairs. Protesters are concerned about a Chinese proposed extradition bill that would allow Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to face court hearings on the mainland.
When the U.K. relinquished control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, there was a provision that the mainland would follow a “one country, two systems” model which granted Hong Kong residents rights not available to mainland Chinese, including more democratic legal and court procedures.
The proposal to extradite citizens set off protests that have grown massive and widespread.
Canadian-Chinese relations are at an all-time low, with senior Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou held under house arrest in Vancouver while awaiting an extradition hearing on her being handed over to the U.S. to face fraud charges.
That infuriated Chinese officials, and two Canadians were charged with espionage and imprisoned in what was widely seen as retaliation for Meng’s arrest. Then sanctions were enacted on imports of Canadian soy, canola, beef and pork.
The Hong Kong statement by Freeland and Mogherini has also stoked anger.
“We demand the Canadian side to deeply reflect upon its mistakes, put itself in the right position, stop its wrongdoing before it is too late, and exercise prudence in words and deeds on Hong-Kong related issues,” said Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry.
“Otherwise, it will cause greater damage to our bilateral relations.”
Trudeau also said the government continues to press for the release of the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor./aa