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Canada's overseas minister says eyes are vast open with regards to normalizing relations with China

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau speaks during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not seen) at the Harpa Concert Hall on the sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial Summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, May 19, 2021

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TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada's "eyes are wide open" when it comes to normalizing its relations with China, Foreign Secretary Marc Garneau said Sunday, two days after the release of a Huawei executive after nearly three years of house arrest in Vancouver.

Huawei Technologies Co Ltd's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, flew back to China on Friday after reaching an agreement with US prosecutors to end bank fraud proceedings against them. That led to their extradition war being scrapped in a Canadian court.

Shortly after Meng flew to China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – two Canadians arrested by Chinese authorities on a US arrest warrant just days after Meng's arrest in Vancouver in December 2018 – were released by Beijing.

Garneau told CBC News that the government now has a four-fold approach to China: "coexist", "compete", "cooperate" and "challenge".

He said Canada will compete with China on issues like trade and cooperate on climate change, while challenging it in its treatment of Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hong Kong as Ottawa has in the past.

"Let me say our eyes are wide open. We have been saying that for a while. There was no way of having a relationship with China while the two Michaels were imprisoned," Garneau said.

Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau and Garneau met the two Canadians on arrival in Calgary, Alberta Saturday after spending more than 1,000 days in solitary confinement.

Spavor was accused of providing photos of military equipment to Kovrig and was sentenced to 11 years in prison in August. Kovrig had been waiting for his conviction.

Trudeau, who won a third term last Monday after a tight campaign, had vowed to improve relations with China after becoming prime minister in 2015, building on his father's success in establishing diplomatic relations with China in 1970 .

But even before Meng's arrest, Canada's repeated questioning of China's human rights positions had angered Beijing and the two countries had not come closer.

China has always denied any link between Meng's extradition case and the detention of the two Canadians, but Garneau said "the immediate return of the two Michaels" linked it to Meng's case in "very direct ways".

Garneau said he heard about the Deferred Law Enforcement Agreement (DPA) a few weeks ago, which opened the door for the two men to return.

Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Kirsten Hillman, denied that Washington made the release of Kovrig and Spavor a condition for resolving the charges against Meng.

"Under no circumstance. The DPA and the case settlement against Ms. Meng were a completely independent process, and that's how it worked, ”Hillman told Canadian broadcaster CTV.

Garneau also said he didn't think the timing of the men's return had anything to do with that of the general election.

"I think it just worked out that way."

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