Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi visited Ottawa on Wednesday and held a joint press conference with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion. iPolitics.ca reporter Amanda Connelly asked a question about human rights on behalf of several Canadian journalists, which led Wang to berate her.
Speaking in Winnipeg, Trudeau said Dion and Global Affairs Canada officials have spoken to Wang and to China’s ambassador to Canada. He says they expressed “our dissatisfaction with the way our journalists were treated.”
“The fact is freedom of the press is very important to me, which is why I’m in my second press conference in two days and my second press conference in Winnipeg in less than a week,” Trudeau continued.
“We know the job of the media is to ask tough questions and we certainly encourage you to do that.”
Connolly had asked Dion how he would use Canada’s diplomatic and trade relationship with China to advance its human rights concerns. She listed a range of issues, including that of Kevin and Julia Garratt, a Canadian couple who were detained on suspicion of espionage in August, 2014. The Canadian government says there is no evidence to support the allegation, which was made a week after Canada said Chinese hackers were responsible for a breach at the National Research Council.
Wang told Connolly her question was irresponsible and unacceptable. Dion didn’t address Wang’s comments at the time, something for which Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement blasted him.
Trudeau says he’s raised Kevin Garratt’s imprisonment every time he meets with the Chinese. Julia Garratt was released on bail more than a year ago.
“The way Canada has always engaged best in the world is to be active and vocal about the things that we are concerned about, and disagree on, while at the same time looking for common ground that will be of mutual benefit for all our citizens,” Trudeau said.
Former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy said Wang’s intervention was well-planned ahead of a possible trip to China by a Canadian delegation, including journalists, next fall.
“I think they just wanted to get the message out. And the message was crude, and it was totally outside the bounds of protocol, but recently the Chinese government doesn’t seem to be too overly concerned with those kind of courtesies,” Axworthy, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister, told CTV News Channel’s Power Play.
“I’m glad that the prime minister issued a statement today because it shows that we’re not going to roll over.”
Axworthy says Dion did the right thing by staying silent, allowing the Canadian government to follow up quietly rather than turn it into a serious diplomatic incident.
“I think China kind of got the message back that the government is not going to put up with this kind of push and pull tactics,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s over, but I think the right way of handling it was quiet diplomacy at the time, [and] now issue the right kind of notes diplomatically back to the government.”