OTTAWA — Canada’s trade minister is downplaying the forthcoming departure of China’s outspoken envoy to Ottawa, saying differences between the countries stretch beyond the ambassador’s level.
Jim Carr says in an interview that the federal government is awaiting China’s decision on its replacement for outgoing ambassador Lu Shaye, who has had harsh words for Canada during his two-year tenure.
Sources say the French-speaking Lu will leave his Ottawa post in the coming weeks for a new position in Paris.
Canada’s relationship with its second-biggest trading partner has deteriorated rapidly since the December arrest of a Huawei senior executive in Vancouver following an extradition request by the United States.
China was outraged by the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, and has since detained two Canadians on allegations of espionage, sentenced two Canadians to death for drug-related convictions and blocked key agricultural shipments such as canola.
Asked about Lu’s criticisms, Carr says personalities are not at the centre of the diplomatic dispute, and that the ambassador’s job is to express the view of his government.
Lu has used strong words when talking about the Canada-China relationship — for example, he told Canadian journalists last winter that Meng’s arrest was the “backstabbing” of a friend and evidence of white supremacism.
He also warned of repercussions if the federal government bars Huawei from selling equipment to build a next-generation 5G wireless network in Canada.
Carr said the Liberal government still hopes to solve the bilateral differences by engaging China on many levels, not just through an ambassador.
“I would only assume that whatever is being spoken by the Chinese ambassador to Canada has the full support of the government, so this is an issue that goes beyond the ambassadorial level,” Carr said Wednesday before leaving for Japan on a trade mission to find new markets for Canadian products, including canola.
“Of course, we await the decision of the Chinese government to replace the existing ambassador and we will reach out to whomever is in that place and make the same arguments to him or her that we’re making now.”
Word of Lu’s departure comes at a time when Canada does not have an ambassador in Beijing. Last winter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired Canada’s former ambassador to China, John McCallum, for going off-script in the government’s efforts to win the release of the two detained Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Before his posting in Beijing, McCallum was a longtime Liberal MP and cabinet minister.