The role of developing countries in the Ukraine conflict took centre stage Friday as Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly met with her Norwegian counterpart in Ottawa.
Joly said Canada has been pushing China to expand its talks with Russia to include Ukraine, while South Africa’s envoy urged Canada to instead support a settlement to the war.
“We need to broaden the coalition of states with which we are engaging,” Joly said Friday. “It’s a question of international security.”
She was speaking at a public discussion on multilateralism with Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Anniken Huitfeldt in Ottawa, hosted by the Global Centre for Pluralism.
The two touched briefly on relations between the two nations, which are both navigating climate change and Indigenous reconciliation. But the event focused primarily on getting developing countries to pressure Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine.
To that end, Joly said she had asked Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang to have his country’s president, Xi Jinping, speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
China has presented a plan for a political settlement to the conflict, but Joly said she used the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in India this month to push Beijing to broaden its talks beyond simply engaging with Moscow.
“When I was in Ukraine, what I clearly heard from President Zelenskyy is that he hadn’t talked yet to Xi Jinping. So when I met with my Chinese counterpart, (that) was clear in my ask,” she said.
“If China wants really to play a role in terms of peace discussions, well, first and foremost, there should be a conversation between both leaders.”
Meanwhile, Huitfeldt acknowledged that developing countries have lamented the Ukraine crisis diverted attention and funding away from issues that have festered for years.
“I can fully understand the frustration, because they’re suffering from rising food prices and climate change. So we need to really step up,” she said.
“We are taking money away from the humanitarian crises in other parts of the world, and they see that we focus more on Ukraine — which is natural, because this is our neighbourhood.”
Huitfeldt added that Oslo prefers to be a neutral mediator, but Russia’s invasion presents a security risk to Norway, which is why the country made an exemption to rules that forbid exporting arms to countries in conflict.
She added that many developing countries want a tougher stance on Israel’s illegal settlements in Palestinian territories, otherwise criticism of Russia’s invasion rings hollow.
“They focus a lot on double standards, which is also understandable,” she said. “We need to be very firm when it comes to occupation everywhere.”
The pair took questions from the audience, including South Africa’s High Commissioner to Canada, Rieaz Shaik.
He commended Canada and Norway for their work in ending apartheid in his country, but urged both to stop policies he argued will prolong the conflict in Ukraine.
“I feel incredibly intimidated by sitting with a group of people who are all like-minded. But I think the value is that when you sit with like-minded people, you have the danger of what is called the echo chamber,” he said.
“The vast majority of the world’s people live in the (global) south and we very much appreciate that you hear our voice when we say to you that we feel voiceless, we feel unheard, we feel ignored, and we would appeal to you to do something about that.”
Shaik argued a negotiated settlement is better than having countries arm both Ukraine and Russia.
“We are on the brink of a catastrophe that is unheard of in the history of humanity,” he said. “The war, the invasion, must stop. But listen to the other view that says we can get around the table and we can resolve this conflict.”
Joly replied that Canada arms Ukraine because a Russian defeat is “the only way to get to peace” and dissuade countries from violating territorial sovereignty. She added that global financial institutions need reform to help developing countries overcome severe debts.
Huitfeldt said Norway had tried a sustained campaign of working with neighbouring Russia to promote democracy.
“We’ve been working closely with Russia for more than 30 years to try to create a space and more openness within Russia,” she said, but Putin established himself as a “strong man” authoritarian who trampled on civil society.
“These men are not really strong, because they cannot accept dissenting voices. So in fact, they’re extremely weak.”
The two foreign affairs ministers also held a formal bilateral discussion about impacting both countries.
That includes Ottawa’s decision last month to end fish-farming licences in the Discovery Islands in B.C., a decision that has split local Indigenous communities who had partnered with three Norwegian firms to operate open-net salmon farms.
Meanwhile, Huitfeldt said she proactively raised an issue in a Thursday discussion with Joly and Indigenous leaders from Canada about a conflict in Norway.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was arrested this month in Oslo at a protest in support of Indigenous Sami people who argued wind turbines were disrupting the traditional practice of reindeer herding.
Huitfeldt said she informed Indigenous leaders in Ottawa that Norway had formally apologized to Sami people. “We acknowledge that the decision to reward licenses to build and operate the wind turbines had a substantive negative impact on their ability to practice their own culture, in violation of human rights,” she said.
Joly said she couldn’t comment on Norway’s domestic issues.
“We’ve shared our own experience with dealing with reconciliation. Norway is undergoing very important truth and reconciliation work.”