OTTAWA (Reuters) – The end to a partnership on a coronavirus vaccine between Chinese firm CanSino Biologics and Canada’s National Research Council was not “necessarily” tied to diplomatic tensions between the two countries, Canada’s foreign minister said on Thursday.
Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi for about 90 minutes on Tuesday in Rome, where he urged Beijing to release two Canadian citizens it has detained.
The two ministers also “discussed the importance of global collaboration in the face of COVID-19, including the search for a vaccine,” according to a statement.
The following day Canada’s National Research Council said it had ended its partnership on a coronavirus vaccine with CanSino because the company lacked the authority to ship the vaccine at this time.
“We are going through a difficult time” in bilateral relations, Champagne told reporters on a teleconference call from Beirut, “but I would not necessarily make a link between that discussion and the Canadian or the Chinese position.”
Ties between the two countries deteriorated in December 2018 after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], on a U.S. extradition warrant.
Soon after, China arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and charged them with spying. It also blocked imports of some canola seed.
The end of the vaccine collaboration had nothing to do with soured diplomatic relations, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a daily news briefing earlier on Thursday.
Champagne also did not rule out collaboration with China or Chinese companies on health issues or COVID-19 in the future.
“When it comes to global health, when it comes to issues around global health and managing issues around COVID, I think it is wise for us to be talking to each other,” Champagne added.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa, Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Writing by Roxanne Liu; Editing by Jason Neely and Matthew Lewis)