Joly Juggles High-Profile Talks with China, Japan

It was a busy week on the diplomatic circuit for Mélanie Joly. Last Thursday, Joly spoke with Wang Yi, China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. In that meeting, Joly said that Canada would work towards deepening economic and people-to-people ties with China, according to a readout from Global Affairs Canada (GAC).

China's readout noted that both Canada and China have “important influence” in the Asia Pacific, with Wang stating that the two countries have “neither historical rows nor realistic conflicts of interests.” Both foreign ministers agreed on the importance of keeping communication channels open.

The meeting follows Canadian environment minister Steven Guilbeault’s August 2023 trip to Beijing, the first by a Canadian cabinet minister in four years.

Canada's ‘cognition’ misguided: Wang  

Wang said, however, that to mend the bilateral relationship, Canada must have “correct cognition” when engaging Beijing, suggesting that frayed Canada-China ties were Ottawa’s fault. Wang also urged Joly not to court “Taiwan independence separatist forces,” referencing the island’s January 13 elections.

This was Joly’s first formal meeting with China’s foreign minister since April 2022 (although she and Wang have met informally since then). The softer language in both readouts may suggest a willingness for more normalized talks.

A full-blown ‘rapprochement,’ however, is unlikely. The relationship is still recovering from tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions, levied in May 2023, and a host of other issues, ranging from alleged Chinese interference in Canadian elections and the Royal Canadian Navy’s transiting of the Taiwan Strait to concerns over Beijing’s treatment of ethnic-minority Uyghurs in Xinjiang.  

Canada-Japan talks offer stark contrast

Three days after her meeting with Wang, Joly hosted her Japanese counterpart, Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamikawa Yoko, in Joly’s hometown of Montreal.

Over roughly 1.5 hours, the two discussed topics including energy security, critical mineral supply chains, the G7, and more, while agreeing to continue co-operating on women, peace, and security initiatives, the Arctic, and bolstering people-to-people exchanges like the Kakehashi Project.

Joly previously met with Kamikawa in November 2023 while in Tokyo for the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. On both occasions, the ministers pledged to continue work on the ‘Canada-Japan Action Plan,’ a wide-ranging collaborative blueprint across fields such as the rule of law, health and energy security, free trade promotion, the environment, and more.