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'Not engaging doesn't change anything,' Nova Scotia premier says of China

FILE: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says he plans to keep building economic ties between his province and China, even though he opposes its ongoing detention of two Canadians.

McNeil says he raised his recent trip to China when he sat down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Tuesday, one of a series of meetings Trudeau is holding with premiers since the federal election.

McNeil says they also talked about health care, immigration and growing the economy in the Atlantic region.

But McNeil’s November trip to China sparked some interest, particularly as his Ottawa trip Tuesday coincided with the one year anniversary of the Chinese detention of two Canadian citizens.

Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, remain in prison.

McNeil says he raised his concerns about their imprisonment during his recent trip to China, but his small province needs to keep creating economic opportunities.

“But staying away doesn’t change anything,” he said. “Not engaging doesn’t change anything.”

Kovrig and Spavor were arrested in China in December 2018 after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. She is facing possible extradition to the United States to face fraud charges. Her arrest sparked a year-long diplomatic dispute that has included China blocking imports of some Canadian agricultural products like canola.

Nova Scotia recently announced it is set to welcome two direct charter flights from China next fall, which could help the province secure regularly scheduled air service.

McNeil says he thinks that welcoming more Chinese people into Nova Scotia will help show the next generation that Canadian democracy is a model for the rest of the world.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2019.

The Canadian Press