Canada appears offside with U.S. after inviting China to sidelines of Vancouver North Korea meeting

Marie-Danielle Smith
Marie-Danielle Smith

Reports at the end of November said Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland ‘said her Chinese counterpart would be among the invitees’

Canada and the United States don’t seem to agree on whether China should’ve been on the guest list for a North Korea summit both countries are hosting in Vancouver next week.

After China’s foreign minister issued a statement this week that heavily criticized the Jan. 16 meeting, U.S. State Department Under Secretary Steve Goldstein told journalists Thursday that “no,” China is not invited. Invitations were focused on United Nations Command Sending States that supported South Korea during the Korean War, “of which China was not a part,” State Dept. spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said in an email.

But Freeland’s press secretary Adam Austen said the opposite in a December email exchange with the National Post. “We hope they will attend,” he said of China Dec. 20, the day Freeland announced details alongside U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ottawa. Asked whether this meant China had been invited, with the blessing of the U.S., he said “yes.” Last week, in response to a question about whether Canada had yet received a reply from China, Austen didn’t qualify his earlier response and simply said there was “no update.”

Neither Canada nor the U.S. would provide a full list of countries that are invited.

“Canada recognizes the essential role that China has to play in any diplomatic efforts in support of security and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” department spokeswoman Amy Mills said in an emailed statement Wednesday evening. “Canada has repeatedly engaged with and updated China on the Vancouver Ministerial Meeting.”

A government official reached Thursday afternoon, who would not speak on the record, was not aware of a formal invitation being extended to China for the summit meeting itself, which features about 20 participants. But there was a desire on the Canadian side to invite the Chinese to Vancouver for side meetings. The official said Canada never got to the “juncture” of inviting China to the actual summit because there was an awareness that Chinese views on the way to move forward are different than those in North America.

A different official, asking not to have the information attributed to them, said that “we did not expect China to attend this meeting.” Still, the Canadian Press had reported at the end of November that “Freeland said her Chinese counterpart would be among the invitees.”

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa would not comment on what kind of invitation China received, only offering a statement from foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang.

“China will not attend such a meeting. Any meeting organized in the name of the so called “UN Command” reflects Cold War thinking, which will only create divisions in the international community and undermine the joint efforts that are being made to resolve properly the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue,” the statement says. “From the very beginning, China considers the meeting meaningless and firmly opposes it.”

Lu’s comments were provided on condition that the entire statement be quoted. It continued: “The current situation in the Korean Peninsula is very complicated and sensitive. All parties should work to defuse tensions and promote dialogue, rather than blindly resort to pressure and isolation. Without the participation of key parties in the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, such a meeting would not help resolve issue properly. The main channels for handling and resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue should still be the framework of six party talks and the UN Security Council.”

Responding to such concerns on Thursday, Brian Hook, the director of policy planning within the U.S. State Department, said the meeting is focused on UN sending states only, but key regional players like neighbours China and Russia are being kept apprised.

“China is working with us. This is not an alternative to everything that we are doing,” Hook said. “This ministerial will enhance and strengthen all of the efforts underway to achieve our policy goals.”

Both Canadian and American officials said that they will be briefing China on the results of the Vancouver summit.

Japan has also raised concerns around the meeting, with Japanese officials suggesting too many countries are invited.

North Korea and South Korea engaged with each other for the first time in two years Tuesday, meeting on the topic of the Winter Olympics being held in the south next month.

Despite U.S. President Donald Trump saying in a tweet he thought this is a sign that UN-approved economic sanctions against North Korea are working, Hook said Thursday, “it was largely limited to the Olympics” and “I don’t read much beyond it, other than that.”

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