Remarks by the Minister of Foreign Affairs before the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations – National Security Dimensions of Canada-China Relations


June 7, 2021

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Mr. President, it is a pleasure to be here with you today.

China’s growing authoritarianism and coercive diplomacy are challenges shared by democracies around the world.

All countries are re-examining and reorienting their engagement with China, and Canada is no exception.

We are all grappling with the question of how we can reconcile our trade, security and human rights objectives.

In this context, our approach to China is constantly evolving. It is firmly guided by our principles, values and interests, while reflecting the complexity of our relationship.

China is fast becoming a global influence with which all countries must learn to coexist.

Coexisting with China means recognizing when it is necessary to cooperate on global issues such as climate change, but it also means competing with China on trade and in promoting our values.

It also implies challenging China when human rights are violated or when Canadian citizens and interests are jeopardized.

We must continue to work with our partners around the world to protect the rules-based international order and defend human rights and freedoms. These are fundamental Canadian values that underpin our foreign policy.

But let me be clear—a path to any kind of long-term relationship with China implies the safe return of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to Canada.

Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have been unlawfully detained for more than 900 days.

Bringing them home is and must remain our top priority in our dealings with China. Period.

Both men received regular virtual visits two weeks ago from consular officials who remarked on their impressive strength and resilience.

We continue to call for their release while pressing China to allow consular access to other Canadian citizens held in that country, namely Huseyin Celil, so we can confirm his well-being.

We also seek clemency for Robert Schellenberg and for all Canadians facing the death penalty.

Alongside international partners, we continue to call out China for its bad behaviour.

We have called on China to put an end to the systematic campaign of repression against Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities, in light of mounting evidence of forced labour, political re-education, torture and forced sterilization.

We announced sanctions against 4 officials and 1 entity for their involvement.

We are also working with allies at the G7, Quad and Five Eyes to condemn China’s growing militarization in the East China Sea and the South China Sea where China claims vast areas, which fuels regional tensions.

China’s economic might has emboldened its ambitions and interests beyond the Indo-Pacific region, where it has enjoyed enormous clout for centuries, to span the entire globe, including here in Canada.

China’s willingness to carry out various covert and illicit activities within and against Canada means we must work with other levels of government, businesses and universities to protect Canadian intellectual property, digital infrastructure and even shield our democratic institutions from foreign interference and election meddling.

Hostile activities by state actors pose strategic, long-term threats to Canada. They can undermine our nation’s economic, industrial, military and technological advantages.

Researchers and innovators, for example, are vulnerable to espionage and hacking.

Last September, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry launched the new portal called Safeguarding Your Research, which provides tools and advice to Canadians on how best to protect their intellectual property.

In March, the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry announced the development of specific risk guidelines to integrate national security considerations into the evaluation and funding of research partnerships.

We are also working with other G7 countries to counter foreign interference, notably through the Canadian initiative called the Rapid Response Mechanism, which strengthens coordination across the G7 in identifying, preventing and responding to threats to G7 democracies.

Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in anti-Asian hatred in Canada and around the world since the beginning of the pandemic.

Chinese and other Asian Canadians are our neighbours, colleagues, friends and family members.

They should never feel unsafe or threatened because of their ethnic background.

As a country firmly committed to inclusion, diversity and multiculturalism, we must take action and do everything we can to protect our fellow citizens from racism and discrimination.

Our disagreement is with the Government of China, not with the Chinese people. 


In conclusion, China’s economic weight and growing influence means that it will undoubtedly remain a global power.

It is the country with the largest population in the world and with the second-largest economy, which is on its way to becoming the largest.

We will continue to evolve and adapt our approach to this new reality.

We cannot allow China to undermine the international system based on human rights and the rule of law, which has sustained decades of unprecedented stability and prosperity.

And we owe it to ourselves to continue to work with China when it is in our interest to do so.

We will continue to seek dialogue and cooperation where possible, challenging China to respect international law and to protect Canadians and our national interest.

Thank you.

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