By David Ljunggren and Lesley Wroughton
OTTAWA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday said China’s detention of two men from Canada was unacceptable and expressed concern the economy could suffer as bilateral relations deteriorate.
China detained the two after Canadian authorities arrested a top Chinese executive on a U.S. request. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is due to raise the matter in Washington on Friday amid concerns that comments by President Donald Trump may have undermined the U.S. case for extradition.
Trudeau, in his strongest comments on the matter to date, said China’s move against the two Canadians was a reaction to the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on Dec 1.
“We are being absolutely clear on standing up for our citizens who have been detained, trying to figure out why, trying to work with China to demonstrate that this is not acceptable,” he told City TV in Toronto.
China rejects Trudeau’s insistence that the government cannot interfere with the judiciary. Meng was released on bail this week but has to remain in Canada.
Amid increasing tensions, Canadian Tourism Minister Melanie Joly on Friday announced she had postponed plans to visit China next week for an official event.
“This is one of the situations you get in when the two largest economies in the world, China and the United States, start picking a fight with each other,” Trudeau said.
“The escalating trade war between them is going to have all sorts of unintended consequences on Canada, potentially on the entire global economy. We’re very worried about that.”
Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to Canada, on Friday told a university conference that the prospects for deeper business ties were good despite the dispute. He declined to comment when pressed by reporters about Trudeau’s remarks.
Canadian officials were granted consular access on Friday to one of the two detainees and are still trying to contact, the foreign ministry said.
Trump said this week he might intervene in the extradition request if that would serve national security interests or help close a trade deal with China, prompting Freeland to warn Washington it should not politicize such matters.
Freeland met U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for talks in Washington on Friday and officials said she would raise the Meng case.
It was the first high-level meeting since the countries sealed a new trilateral trade pact in September that preserved a $1.2 trillion (£955.79 billion) open-trade zone between Mexico, Canada and the United States.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alistair Bell)