In this Jan. 6, 2016, file photo, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying speaks during a briefing at the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Ng Han Guan, File

In this Jan. 6, 2016, file photo, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying speaks during a briefing at the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Ng Han Guan, File

China says butt out; Canada calls for release of “arbitrarily” detained Muslims

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman accused Canada’s envoy of going beyond their diplomatic roles

Canada stood firm against Chinese criticism Thursday after the Trudeau government rallied more than a dozen countries in expressing concern to Beijing about its jailing of hundreds of thousands of its Muslim minority.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman accused Canada’s envoy and 14 others of going beyond their diplomatic roles by sending a letter that expressed concern about the incarcerations of China’s Muslim minorities in re-education camps in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters the letter violated the terms of the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations and that the envoys should not “interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.”

She noted the letter, which was spearheaded by Canada, was based on hearsay, despite widely distributed reports from detainees, relatives and officials documenting the sweeping and seemingly arbitrary detentions.

RELATED: Canada wants free trade deal with southeast Asian nations, Trudeau says

A well-placed source from one of the 15 signatory countries also confirmed to The Canadian Press that Canada led the effort to send the letter.

The United Nations estimates as many as one million Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities are being held in arbitrary detention.

“Canada is deeply concerned by credible reports of the mass detention, repression and surveillance of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang,” said Adam Austen, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Canada called on China to release all “arbitrarily” detained Muslims earlier this month at the UN where China’s human rights record was under review. Freeland also raised their plight with her Chinese counterpart at the UN General Assembly in September, said Austen.

“Canada also regularly raises concerns about Xinjiang with Chinese authorities both publicly and privately, bilaterally and multilaterally, and will continue to do so,” said Austen.

But Canada is now part of a shrinking group of countries that are speaking out against China. Of the 130 countries that commented on China’s human rights record at the UN review, only 15 mentioned Xinjiang, said Paul Evans, a China expert at the University of British Columbia.

China’s hardline response to the letter places it on “a collision course with Western values of freedom of religion, Western values on culture,” Evans said.

“This is the old Chinese hammer, and it does not look very good in the context of 2018. The absence of transparency on this, the disinformation that has been circulated by the Chinese side — whatever your political position on this one, it makes you grit your teeth,” said Evans.

The letter emerged one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a decidedly low-key version of his third-annual leaders’ summit with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the margins of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders’ summit in Singapore.

RELATED: Trudeau’s trade talk to be tested on 10-day, three country trip

The one-hour meeting in a third country represented a downgrade compared to their two previous leaders’ summits — part of a high-profile initiative to reinvigorate Sino-Canadian relations — that saw Trudeau feted in Beijing and 2017 after Li was wined and dined in Ottawa a year earlier.

With a push towards free trade talks all but stalled, Trudeau was unapologetic when asked about Canada’s leadership role on the contentious letter, and whether it whether it would undermine his government’s pursuit of more trade with China.

“This is something that we do at the same time as we engage in constructive and positive trade talks,” Trudeau said, adding that he raised questions and concerns about the plight of Muslims in his meeting with Li.

“Canada will continue to look for ways to advance and promote human rights in partnership with our like-minded allies everywhere around the world.”

A former Canadian ambassador to China and a human rights advocate said it was about time somebody spoke up for its embattled Muslim minority regardless of the economic consequences.

“Having ambassadors address this issue directly and openly is far better than attempting to influence the domestic affairs of another country covertly, which has been China’s preferred tactic in recent years,” said David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012.

Mulroney, who has urged Canada to push for deeper economic ties with China and its Asian neighbours, said Canada still needs to find “the courage to flag concerns about China’s increasingly irresponsible behaviour” under its newly assertive President Xi Jinping.

“As we get deeper into the Xi Jinping era, and as concerns grow about issues such as China’s brutal crackdown on Uighurs and other minorities and its increasingly aggressive interference abroad, the scope of the bilateral relationship begins to shrink.”

Alex Neve, the head of Amnesty International Canada, said he was surprised to read about Canada’s leadership role in sending the letter because he’s grown accustomed to human rights concerns taking a back seat to trade and investment.

“China is feeling bruised. China is concerned, and that’s precisely the moment at which governments need to maintain pressure.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

Okanagan Lake (File photo)
Thompson-Okanagan ready to welcome back tourists

The Thompson-Okanagan Tourism Association expects this summer to be a busy one

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

Most Read