OTTAWA: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marked the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on Tuesday by expressing “real concerns” about China’s human rights record, prompting a swift protest from Beijing.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries have deteriorated badly since December when police in Vancouver detained Huawei Technologies Co Ltd Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a US arrest warrant.
Trudeau said Canada continued to call on China to “respect human rights, to respect the right to protest, to respect freedom of expression” and stop its mass detention of Uighurs and other Muslims.
“We have real concerns about China’s behavior in regards to human rights and will continue to… call for better respect of human rights on this anniversary and every day going forward,” he told reporters in Vancouver.
Security in Tiananmen Square on Tuesday was tighter than usual. The anniversary of the crackdown, when Beijing sent troops and tanks to quell pro-democracy activists, is not spoken of openly in China.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement that Canada wanted Chinese authorities “to break the silence on these events by openly accounting for the Chinese citizens who were killed, detained or went missing.”
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa said the remarks by Trudeau and his government were “gross accusations” that represented flagrant interference in China’s internal affairs.
“The Chinese side firmly opposes it and has made stern representations to the Canadian side. Any attempt to… destabilize our country is doomed to fail,” the mission said in a statement.
Shortly after Trudeau spoke, Reuters reported that China planned to boost inspections of imported Canadian meats and meat products, a move industry executives said could have “a disastrous effect.”
Chinese authorities detained two Canadians shortly after Meng’s arrest and formally charged them last month with espionage. China also has cut off imports of key Canadian commodities in an effort to force Meng’s return.
“We deplore the arbitrary detention of Canadians and other political prisoners in China and we have made that point directly to the Chinese leadership,” said Trudeau.