Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says the Chinese communist regime is to blame for unstable Canada-China relations, hitting back at criticism from a Chinese official that the Conservatives are unfairly targeting China for political reasons.

China’s ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu said in a Hill Times interview he is opposed to politicians who are “hyping up issues related to China or smearing China.”

“Some people put their personal political interests above the interests of the Canadian people as a whole and hype issues related to China,” Cong said when pressed on whether he was referring to the Conservatives.

“So facts have proved that the stable and healthy China-Canada relationship serves the common interest of the two countries and the two peoples. So I think those people should reflect on the facts and the benefits we…receive from the relationship between our two countries.”

Speaking to reporters Friday morning in Corner Brook, Nfld., O’Toole said this is not an accurate representation of Canada’s relationship with China.

“Two of our citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, are approaching a thousand days in prison as diplomatic pawns. I would not suggest the relationship right now between Canada and China is stable,” he said.

The Chinese regime has previously accused Justin Trudeau of being an American “running dog” – a Chinese pejorative for a lackey – at the expense of the Canada-China relationship.

O’Toole was quick to point out this decline has happened under Trudeau’s watch.

“I would suggest Mr. Trudeau has been completely offside for six years with respect to our interests, with respect to trade, with respect to Huawei, with respect to human rights,” he said.

“We need a serious prime minister that will stand up for our interests, our citizens, and our security. Getting the balance right, having a serious position with respect to China, is just one of the many reasons we need change in Canada.”

O’Toole noted it was the Conservatives who moved to recognize China’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province on the House of Commons. The February motion, introduced by Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong, passed unanimously, though the Liberal caucus was largely absent from the vote. Global Affairs Minister Marc Garneau attended to log an abstention “on behalf of the government of Canada.”

After the motion passed, Cong said Canada was “interfering in (China’s) domestic affairs.” China later sanctioned Chong and members of the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights.

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