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The Conservative who is the front-runner to unseat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this year took aim at China in his first major foreign policy speech, saying the Asian country’s rise is a threat to Canadian security.
Andrew Scheer delivered the keynote address on Tuesday in Montreal, the first of a string of planned speeches in coming weeks to roll out policy positions ahead of the October election.
Scheer criticized Trudeau for mishandling China after what the Conservative leader called the “arbitrary detention and torture” of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians seized in China in December. China has also blocked Canadian canola shipments in the aftermath of Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou.
Canada once looked to the Asian country as a new market for exports, but “China’s adversarial approach to Canada and the western, democratic world has changed those expectations,” Scheer said, according to a prepared copy of the speech. “So long as China is willing to hold our exports hostage, all while committing human rights violations on an industrial scale, we have no choice as Canadians but to consider other trade partners.”
He said Canada should pivot its focus to “like-minded democracies in the Indo-Pacific region,” which he said are better-suited economic and political partners for Canada. “Canada’s relationship with China needs a total reset. Nothing can happen until such time,” he said.
The rise of China, along with the re-emergence of Russia’s “Cold War mentality” and state-sponsored terrorism, are “three of the greatest foreign threats to Canadian security and prosperity in the 21st century,” Sheer said.
Free trade with China can only happen “when China embraces a functioning rule of law system, when judicial processes which are supposed to guarantee equal market access are no longer subject to control by the Communist Party.” Canada is “a long, long ways off” from being able to trust China, he said.
Scheer pledged to pull out of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and not allow Chinese state-owned enterprises “unfettered access to the Canadian market,” without giving specifics.
With assistance from Stephen Wicary