Trudeau says Canada will push back in China row, urges de-escalation in Hong Kong

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pictured in March 2019, promised to defend Canadian interests amid growing tensions with China (AFP Photo/Lars Hagberg)

Montreal (AFP) - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that Canada will stand up to China in a deepening diplomatic and trade spat, while renewing calls for de-escalation of Hong Kong protest tensions.

"We must recognize that China is a growing power and increasingly assertive towards its place in the international order. But make no mistake: we will always defend Canadians and Canadian interests," Trudeau said in a speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

"We have a long history of dealing directly and successfully with larger partners. We do not escalate, but we also don't back down," he said.

The two nations have been locked in a feud since December 2018 when Canada detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a flight stopover in Vancouver.

The US is seeking her extradition to face fraud charges for allegedly violating Iran sanctions and lying about it to US banks -- accusations that her lawyers dispute.

In apparent retaliation, China arrested two Canadian nationals and accused them of espionage, while blocking billions of dollars in Canadian agricultural shipments.

On Sunday, Beijing warned Ottawa to stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs after Canada and the European Union issued a joint statement in support of protestors' "fundamental right of assembly."

The semi-autonomous southern Chinese city has endured weeks of protests triggered by a government bid to introduce a law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

The demonstrations have evolved into a movement for democratic reform and an end to eroding freedoms, in the most significant challenge to Beijing's rule since the city's handover from Britain in 1997.

Canadians are one of the largest expatriate groups in Hong Kong, numbering 300,000, according to Canadian government figures.