Thank you very much.
Good evening, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today.
I will be giving my presentation in English, but I would obviously be pleased to answer any questions in French.
I commend the committee for its engagement and interest in the evolving Canada-China relationship. I thought I would outline, in respect of my time as ambassador, what I understood to be the objectives of the Canadian government policy in China and how they changed during my tenure.
I want to highlight for the committee, however, some limitations on what I can say here today. First, I don't intend to offer much comment on events or issues that are currently in front of the government and this Parliament. I'm not of the view that governments are anxiously waiting for the policy recommendations of retired ambassadors, ministers and others.
Second, the extradition process for Meng Wanzhou is now before the courts, so I won't be commenting on that.
Finally, I should say that I'm here on my own behalf and that my comments are purely personal.
In March 2017, I went to China as ambassador with a double mandate from the government: to expand our relationship with China and to voice Canada's concerns on values and human rights.
I'll give you three examples of our actions in the area of human rights.
First, I am proud that in 2018 Canada spearheaded a letter from 18 ambassadors to the party secretary of Xinjiang province to request a meeting on the subject of the treatment of Uighurs.
Second, in July 2017, then Governor General Johnston had a 15-minute conversation with President Xi Jinping, in which he asked the Chinese government to allow the jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo to be moved from his prison in China for medical treatment in Germany. Xi Jinping said that Liu Xiaobo was too sick to travel, and it turned out that Xi Jinping was right, because we learned later that Liu Xiaobo had died on that same day.
My third example relates to China's arrest of human rights lawyers in 2015, known as the “709” crackdown. I particularly remember Li Wenzu, the very brave wife of one of the lawyers, who had not had any contact with her husband for more than two years and who told me she was concerned because her husband had a stubborn streak. She met our Prime Minister and also Angela Merkel. We made representations to the Chinese regarding these human rights lawyers, and eventually Li Wenzu's husband was released.
We addressed security issues on a case-by-case basis, with our focus on what we thought to be Canada's national interest. On the one hand, we worked with the Chinese on major criminal cases and on efforts to reduce the production and export of amphetamines to Canada. On the other hand, we turned down Chinese requests for an extradition treaty. We also turned down a good number of official visa applications in cases where we felt that the applicants' activities in Canada might not be in the national interest.
I believe I fulfilled the dual mandate I received from the government. We were active on human rights issues and awake to Canada's security concerns, while at the same time pursuing a policy of enhanced engagement with China. This approach permitted a positive Canada-China relationship. Both sides were keen to pursue mutually beneficial opportunities while also speaking frankly but respectfully on the issues that divided us.
Everything changed in December 2018, with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, resulting from a U.S. extradition request, closely followed by the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China. From that moment onwards, the top priority of the government and of me as ambassador was to secure the release of the two Michaels. I was in frequent touch with their family members as well as with ambassadors of like-minded governments.
As one of relatively few Canadians who have actually visited the two Michaels in detention, I was determined to do whatever I could to secure their release. On more than one occasion, I tried to convince the Chinese that if they were unable to release Kovrig and Spavor, they should at least improve their living conditions.
Sadly, as you all know, Canadian efforts in this area have so far been unsuccessful.