China's ambassador to Canada says his government wants to end the countries' impasse but won't give way on two of Canada's major complaints.
"Indeed, the bilateral relations between China and Canada are facing serious difficulties right now," Lu Shaye said Tuesday at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa, in an interview through an interpreter. "The Chinese side is not responsible for this issue. But the Chinese government is waiting to make a joint effort with the Canadian side and meet each other halfway."
When asked about the possibility of freeing two Canadians detained in China on espionage charges, however, Lu offered little wiggle room. And on China's blocking Canadian canola imports, he considers the matter closed.
Canada's relationship with Beijing has deteriorated rapidly since the December arrest of a Chinese telecom giant's chief financial officer in Vancouver. The arrest of Huawei's Meng Wanzhou was carried out after an extradition request by the United States.
Meng's arrest has outraged Beijing and Chinese authorities have demanded her release. Since Meng's arrest, China has detained two Canadians on allegations of endangering the country's national security, sentenced two Canadians to death for drug-related convictions and rejected important agricultural shipments.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has sought international support in condemning China's decision to, in his word, "arbitrarily" arrest Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave, and businessman Michael Spavor.
Last week on a visit to Ottawa, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence linked the liberation of the two imprisoned Canadians to American trade talks with China.
The offer is significant because the Chinese government has rebuffed requests from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to speak with her counterpart.
Pence said U.S. President Donald Trump would push Chinese President Xi Jinping on Kovrig and Spavor at the G20 leaders' summit later this month. Trudeau is also expected to travel to Japan for that summit.
The ambassador said he did not know if Xi and Trudeau plan to meet at the G20.
When it comes to Kovrig and Spavor, he said "the relevant departments of China will investigate the case, follow the Chinese laws, international practice and the consular agreement between China and Canada, and provide relevant treatment to them."
Lu spoke at length about China's trade war with the U.S., which has rattled international markets and poses a threat to the global economy. He listed numerous examples of how he said the American side has backtracked during bilateral negotiations that began over a year ago.
The decline of Canada-China relations has also led to some direct economic consequences for Canadian businesses.
China has been a huge market for Canadian canola seed, which is crushed to make cooking oil. The country imported $2.7 billion worth of Canadian canola seed last year, and any drawn-out blockage will hurt farmers, the industry and the national economy.
China has stonewalled requests for Canadian experts to examine Chinese evidence that two canola-seed shipments contained pests.
Lu said Chinese officials investigated the Canadian canola "based on regulations and science principles."
"The Chinese side provided concrete documents about the investigation," he said. "The relevant Chinese departments maintain no more contact with their Canadian counterparts. The documents have already been provided."
In an interview last week, International Trade Minister Jim Carr said Canada wants to engage with China on the canola issue. In the meantime, Carr said, Canada had been trying to increase canola sales in other markets such as Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates.
Also on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said China has stepped up inspections of Canadian pork products on the grounds that it's concerned about smuggling and African swine fever — an illness that can be devastating among pigs. That's in addition to previously stated Chinese concerns about the labelling of Canadian pork.
"We are working with producers and industry to underscore the importance of heightened quality assurance efforts to ensure there are no trade disruptions due to administrative errors," Bibeau said in a statement.
The Trudeau government has come under pressure to follow the American lead and ban Huawei from supplying equipment for Canada's next-generation 5G wireless networks. Pence raised the matter with Trudeau last week in front of reporters.
He argued letting Huawei participate would be against American security interests. Trudeau replied by reiterating that Canadian government would rely on evidence from its own security agencies before making a decision.
Huawei has denied allegations that its digital communications equipment is a tool of Chinese state espionage. Lu echoed that position Tuesday.
Lu was asked for his thoughts on the possibility of working with a Canadian government led by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who recently promised to take a harder line with China if he wins October's federal election. The envoy said he would not comment on Canada's domestic matters and said his country is willing to build relations with all political parties.
The case of Meng, the telecom giant's senior executive, will return to a Vancouver courtroom on Thursday. It has drawn interest from around the world.
A statement from Canada's Justice Department said Tuesday that the purpose of the proceeding is to address additional applications in Meng's extradition case and to set future court dates.
The new dates will not be for the actual extradition hearing, which has yet to be scheduled, and Meng is not expected to attend Thursday's proceeding in person, the statement says.
The U.S. Department of Justice laid 13 criminal charges, including conspiracy, fraud and obstruction, against Huawei and Meng, who is the daughter of the company's founder.
—With files from Aleksandra Sagan