Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and her Chinese counterpart had a testy exchange this week over allegations that Beijing’s envoys may be interfering in Canadian matters.
Joly spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang during a G20 meeting in New Delhi, telling him Canada will not accept China meddling in Canadian democracy.
“We will never accept any breach of our territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Joly wrote in a statement, after media reported about the conversation.
The Liberal government has been under pressure to explain what it’s doing about alleged interference in the last two federal elections, which came to light in recent media stories based on leaks from security sources.
Canadian officials who were there for the exchange say Joly approached Qin, and their discussion lasted about 20 minutes.
Chinese state media outlet Xinhua reported that Qin rebuked Joly for not condemning the reports from Global News and the Globe and Mail about interference.
The report said Qin told her these were not credible allegations and that she should “prevent rumours” from derailing the bilateral relationship.
Joly’s office said she told Qin that Ottawa will not allow Chinese diplomats to breach international agreements that restrict envoys from interfering in local politics.
Her statement said Joly was “direct, firm and unequivocal” and based on the Indo-Pacific strategy the Liberals released last fall, which called for forming ties with other countries to counterbalance China’s influence.
Joly’s statement said it was their first conversation since Qin started his role last December, and that the two agreed to keep communicating. Joly had spoken with Qin’s predecessor last November.
The conversation occurred as top diplomats from the Group of 20 industrialized and developing nations held a contentious meeting Thursday, ending with no consensus on the Ukraine war.
China and Russia objected to two paragraphs taken from the previous G-20 declaration in Bali last year, according to a summary of Thursday’s meeting released by India.
Those two paragraphs stated that the war in Ukraine was causing immense human suffering while exacerbating fragilities in the global economy, the need to uphold international law, and that “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.”
Joly’s office said that in the closed-door meetings, she chided Russia for its invasion and the chaos it has caused in global food and energy supply chains, which amount to an “all-out attack on the world’s most vulnerable populations.”
According to her office, Joly called on her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to “stop holding the world’s most vulnerable hostage.”