Conservatives call on Liberals to stop payments to Chinese infrastructure bank

·2 min read

OTTAWA — The Conservatives are calling on the Liberal government to stop funding the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank given the ongoing detention and secret trials of two Canadians in China.

In a letter Tuesday to Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole urged the prime minister to cancel a US$40 million payment to the China-led agency.

"When the AIIB was first proposed it was criticized by the Obama administration as a political tool that the Chinese government would use to expand its influence throughout Asia," O'Toole wrote.

"Furthermore, concerns about the AIIB's environmental records, labour standards, and overall commitment to human rights continue to this day."

O'Toole said Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig "have been held hostage" by China for more than two years, arbitrarily detained in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest of a top Huawei executive on the request of the United States. The are now being tried secretly in Chinese courts that "are not based on the rule of law," he said.

O'Toole said China's human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslims and protesters in Hong Kong are further reasons to stop payments to the bank.

Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong said it's unacceptable that Canada would support the bank when China is conducting secret trials of Spavor and Kovrig.

Chong said the Liberal government should use all of the tools at its disposal, including withholding the payment, to put pressure on Chinese authorities to stop the trials and release the two Michaels.

"We should also be looking at using other tools at our disposal to put pressure on Chinese authorities, such as withdrawing from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank ... banning Huawei from the build-out of Canada's telecommunications network, and a range of other measures," Chong said in an interview.

"The fact that the government is not using these tools at its disposal indicates that they don't have a plan to respond to China's threats, it indicates that they're naïve and equivocating."

Global Affairs Canada and Finance Canada have not responded to several requests for information on whether the payment that's due this month has been made or whether Ottawa will withhold the payment to put pressure on China.

The government committed to contribute $256 million to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2017 and has made payments of nearly US$40 million in March in each of the last three years.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland last week said Canada will make its final two payments to the bank in March 2021 and March 2022 to complete its commitment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press