The charismatic Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, paid a flying visit to Hong Kong recently after his official state visit to China and the G20 summit in Hangzhou.
It was Trudeau’s first trip to the mainland and Hong Kong since he took office in October 2015.
On the surface, Trudeau qualifies as China’s “good old friend” by Beijing standards.
His late father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, was a key figure in the reopening of diplomatic relations between Ottawa and Beijing in 1973.
But the truth is, relations between Canada and China have been rocky since the younger Trudeau came to power a year ago.
Unlike his father, who was a pragmatic politician and diplomat, Justin Trudeau is an idealist who gives priority to human rights, freedom and democracy over trade relations and strategic partnership in foreign policy.
Trudeau’s unequivocal stance on human rights and civil liberties has put him at odds with Beijing.
For example, he expressed “dissatisfaction” at Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after he lashed out at a Canadian journalist who had questioned him about China’s human rights record at a press conference during a visit to Ottawa earlier this year.
In a statement, Trudeau said free speech and a free press are of utmost importance in Canada.
According to media reports, Beijing was “very unhappy” with Trudeau’s comments.
Another bone of contention is Beijing’s intensified surveillance of foreigners including Canadian nationals.
A Canadian couple — Kevin Garratt and his wife Julia — who owns a small coffee bar near the China-North Korean border, were arrested and detained on a charge of espionage in 2014.
Julia Garratt was released on bail earlier this year but her husband remains in custody.
The Garratts’ case has become a major diplomatic flap between Canada and China and has taken its toll on bilateral relations.
Then there is another variable in China-Canada relations in the days ahead, which has a lot to do with us.
At present, there are an estimated 150,000 Canadian nationals in Hong Kong.
As social tensions and political conflict intensifies, more and more people are taking to the streets, some of whom might be holders of Canadian passports.
If any of them is arrested or mistreated by the Hong Kong authorities, chances are Ottawa and Beijing will have another diplomatic tangle on their hands.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sep 8
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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