Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Honourable members and colleagues, it is a great pleasure for me to join you this evening. Thank you for inviting me to testify before you today.
The work that you are doing here is important, because the relationship between Canada and China is important for Canadians.
I would first like to thank the officials who are with me today. Thank you for your time and thank you, also, for serving Canada. I also want to take a moment to thank Ambassador Barton and our team in the different missions in China and our diplomats in China who did extraordinary work, as I recall, in the first phase of their repatriation from Wuhan.
Mr. Chair and honourable members, thank you for the invitation to appear in front of you today. The work you do, as I was saying, is crucial because the relationship between Canada and China is important to all Canadians. The countries that make up the Indo-Pacific region are drivers of economic prosperity for Canada and for the world.
By some estimates, just 10 years from now, Asia will account for roughly 60% of the world's economic growth. The bilateral and multilateral relationships we foster and the region's stability create jobs, open up markets, connect communities and support Canadian families here at home. As the world's second-largest economy and home to 1.4 billion people, China is a key actor in the region and beyond.
This year marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and China. Fifty years later, I don't think anyone would say this is an easy relationship. Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have now been arbitrarily detained for almost two years.
Our relationship with China is a complex and difficult one, not just for Canada, but for democracies around the world. China is changing rapidly before our eyes.
We recognize China's growing influence on the world stage as a global hub for manufacturing, trade and lending, and the single-largest trading nation in the world. It is the first trading partner for an astonishing 124 countries. It is the first trading partner in Africa, second in Latin America, and it is also an important trading partner for Canada, for both exports and imports. Bilateral trade in goods and services between Canada and China has increased eightfold over the last 20 years.
In addition, China can be a key player on the world stage in the fight against climate change, COVID-19, or to ensure the stability of financial markets and global economic development.
With significant assistance funding in Africa and Latin America, it gives China growing clout in the developing world. As an example, as part of its belt and road initiative, China has signed co-operation agreements with 138 countries to build infrastructure that will connect it to developing countries. China's banks have already provided loans worth over $461 billion, raising many concerns over debt sustainability, transparency and international standards on labour and the environment.
China's ambition even reaches the Arctic region, where it aims to develop shipping lanes, calling it the polar silk road. This is a new reality that we need to take into account and thus engage with China with eyes wide open, as I have said on a number of occasions.
The China of 2020 is not the China of 2015, or even the China of 2018.
Its rise has brought with it troubling threats to human rights, to long-standing agreements of autonomy [Technical difficulty—Editor] and to the international institutions that underpin the rules-based order of which Canada is a steadfast promoter. We see a country and a leadership increasingly prepared to throw its weight around to advance its interest.
This includes the use of coercive diplomacy, like the arbitrary detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. This, however, is not a sentiment unique to me or to Canada. Democracies around the world are rethinking their own relationship with China.
Multilateralism will be key to ensuring global stability and security in a world in which China is a powerful actor. That's why we are working with like-minded countries to defend the rules-based international order and ensure that China abides by its obligations under international human rights law. When dealing with China, we will be firmly guided by Canadian interests, our fundamental values and principles, including human rights, as well as by global rules and strategic partnerships.
Let me be clear. The safety and security of Canadians at home and abroad will always be at the heart of our approach.
Tactics such as coercive diplomacy, including arbitrary detention, are unacceptable in the conduct of state-to-state relations. This is something I have raised not just with our allies, but directly with my Chinese counterpart.
We do, and we will continue to, challenge China when human rights are violated, and we will always protect Canadians when it comes to our national security, compete with our innovative businesses and the abundant resources that allow us to do so, and co-operate on global challenges such as climate change, because there is no easy path forward without China.
More than 700 days have passed since then, and we remain deeply concerned by the arbitrary arrest and detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, as well as the arbitrary sentencing of Mr. Schellenberg. We continue to call for the immediate release of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor and for clemency for Mr. Schellenberg, as we do for all Canadians facing the death penalty.
I know that all members of this committee, indeed all Canadians, are angered by the detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor and concerned for their well-being. I would also like to acknowledge the resilience demonstrated by their families and their support at every step of the way.
Finally, after many months, we recently secured on-site virtual consular access to Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. This is something I personally raised in a meeting with my counterpart, State Councilor Wang Yi, in Rome in August this year, and on which we worked tirelessly.
Since October, Ambassador Barton has on two occasions travelled to the prisons in which they are being held to lead virtual on-site visits to personally confirm the health and well-being of these two Canadians while they remain unjustly detained. This is a very important development and we continue to work very hard to secure their release.
Turning to Hong Kong, the imposition of the new national security law in Hong Kong has raised significant concerns about the future of Hong Kong’s independent judiciary, the future of human rights and freedoms in the special administrative region, the integrity of the “one country, two systems” framework, and Hong Kong’s role as a global hub.
On November 11, we condemned China’s removal of four democratically elected lawmakers from office in Hong Kong. It is an assault on Hong Kong’s freedoms under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Alongside our partners, we continue to call on Chinese authorities to uphold international human rights obligations. We have been at the forefront of the international response to the national security law, issuing—often at our urging—statements alongside Australia, the U.K., the United States, the G7 and the Five Eyes, at the Human Rights Council and, most recently, at the UN General Assembly’s third committee.
We were also the first to suspend our extradition treaty with Hong Kong, and we have announced a series of other measures, including export control measures and an update on travel advice for the region.
Last week, you heard from my colleague Minister Mendicino on the immigration measures we have put in place. Our response to both Hong Kong and China is one that crosses many departments and requires significant coordination.
As all of you, I am sure, I have been alarmed by the reports of gross human rights violations in Xinjiang. The violations target Uighurs and other Muslim minorities on the basis of their religion and ethnicity.
Publicly and privately, in multilateral and bilateral dialogues, we have called on the Chinese government to end the repression in Xinjiang. I have raised this directly with my Chinese counterpart, most recently in Rome this summer at a meeting called at my request. In September at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, we raised concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. In October, we were one of 39 countries signing the third committee's declaration at the UN General Assembly in New York, which referenced Xinjiang. [Technical difficulty—Editor] for human rights.