Legault government begins reflection on Quebec-China relations

The Legault government is reflecting on Quebec-China relations, in the wake of the country's detainment of two Canadians.

China, where Quebec has opened four offices, has become one of the province's main trading partners.

China's detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig was presumably carried out in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

The detention, which lasted over 1,000 days, has cast a shadow over relations between Beijing and Ottawa.

At the end of a saga described by several experts as "hostage diplomacy," the two men were released on Sept. 25. This was around the same time Meng Wanzhou was able to return to China, after being placed under house arrest in Vancouver at the request of Washington, which suspected her of bank fraud.

Quebec has not taken a position on the subject since then, but "with what has happened, it is certain that there is reflecting to be done," the Minister of International Relations Nadine Girault told The Canadian Press Wednesday.

"We are looking at how to adjust our strategy with China, what to do with it, how to position ourselves from there," she added, saying that Quebec would also take the future position of the Canadian government into account.

Recovering from a back injury for the past month, Girault resumed her activities this week.

She said she had not yet had time to review the Quebec-China file since her return to the office, but that she intended to look into it "in the coming days."

That same evening, Girault issued a written statement clarifying her position.

"It is unacceptable for any country to arbitrarily detain foreign nationals. Our strategy has not changed, since respect for human rights and democracy are fundamental values that have always guided Quebec's international action, including in China," she wrote, pledging to keep "channels of communication open, in order to express our concerns and reiterate Quebec's position."

Quebec currently has four representations in China: in Beijing, Shanghai, Quingdao and Shenzhen.

China is the province's second-largest export market, far behind the U.S. The Americans still account for 70% of Quebec's exports, while the Chinese take 5%.

China primarily relies on Quebec for a supply of iron, pork, flight simulators, helicopters and planes.

Quebec also welcomes several thousand students from China each year.

The government is also preparing a trading strategy for the greater Asia-Pacific region, including China, the details of which should be known soon.

--This story was first reported by The Canadian Press on Oct. 6, 2021.



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