OTTAWA • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is doubling down on a push to deepen ties with China, with Canada's new envoy signalling he can move ahead on a free trade deal without quickly advancing extradition treaty talks.
Former immigration minister John McCallum last month took up his post as Mr Trudeau's ambassador, and met Chinese President Xi Jinping within a day of arrival.
His message was clear: Mr Trudeau wants even deeper ties than he and Mr Xi had previously committed to.
"Justin Trudeau told me very clearly he wants to do more with China," Mr McCallum said by phone from Beijing. "It takes two to tango, but I think the Chinese are also wanting to go in this direction."
The China file is one of Mr Trudeau's most delicate balancing acts. On the one hand, it is a behemoth economy with ample demand for Canadian resources.
On the other, its human rights record is a political problem for Mr Trudeau, with polls showing at best lukewarm support for closer ties.
Mr McCallum's comments indicate he is pressing to push forward on economic issues while digging in on those of human rights.
The expanded ties Canada is seeking are not limited to a free trade pact - it wants more foreign investment, more Chinese tourists and to send more Canadian students to China.
He brushed aside questions of whether Canada was open to an extradition treaty pegged to a free trade pact, after Australia abandoned ratification of its treaty amid concerns over human rights.
"That's not free trade," Mr McCallum said. "Whatever the country involved, Canada has very high standards on extradition treaties, so we're a long way from even negotiating let alone concluding something in that area."