As U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sits down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today, geopolitics watchers and at least one Hong Kong national are urging both leaders to speak with one voice in response to China’s actions regarding the democratic protest movement in Hong Kong.
“The global protests are top of mind for virtually every country in the world,” said Ben Rowswell, president of the Canadian International Council think tank. “And with a real risk of major bloodshed right now, we don’t know what is going to happen, but at least one of the potential scenarios is that the Chinese army will suppress those protests.”
Today’s visit is Pompeo’s first to Canada since taking on his current role. Pompeo will meet with both Trudeau and his Canadian counterpart, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
At a news briefing Wednesday, the U.S. State Department told reporters in Washington the leaders are expected to discuss a range of issues, including the ongoing strife in Venezuela, the ratification of the new North American trade agreement and the detention of Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in China.
Rowswell said he expects Canada will continue to pressure the U.S. to urge China to release those detainees. But given Canada’s strong interest in keeping the situation in Hong Kong from getting any worse — 300,000 Canadian citizens live there — Rowswell said he also predicts Canada will encourage the U.S. to speak with it in “a single voice” on the situation in the former British colony.
The protests in Hong Kong have mainly been peaceful, although there have been some violent episodes. As the protests have dragged on, Chinese troops have assembled at a stadium in Shenzhen, the city that links Hong Kong to China’s mainland — raising fears of an armed intervention by Beijing.
Critics have highlighted U.S. President Donald Trump’s weak stance on the pro-democracy protests and Beijing’s potential show of force.
Freeland, along with EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini, has expressed support for the rights of Hong Kong’s citizens to peaceful assembly. Both also have called for dialogue among all stakeholders.
That prompted a backlash from the Chinese Embassy, which said in an online statement that Canada should “immediately stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs.”
“Under the current situation, the Canadian side should be cautious on its words and deeds regarding the Hong Kong related issue,” said the statement from an unnamed spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Canada.
Cherie Wong, who was born in Toronto but grew up in Hong Kong, said she’ll be watching the bilateral meeting closely.
“Both (in) Canada and the U.S. there are large amounts of Hong Kongers who are watching the news and hoping our government will use the power that it has to advocate,” Wong said. “Especially in these countries where freedom and democracy are core values.”
Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson is also calling for a unified Canadian-American stance on Hong Kong ahead of the G7 meeting in Biarritz, France this weekend. Robertson said Canada, the U.S. and its allies should not be afraid of upsetting China.
“China takes umbrage in anything,” Robertson said. “Anything that we do that mentions China they are not going to like. But we have to let them know. If we don’t speak out, we are not true to our values.”