PoliticsThe China Syndrome

The China Syndrome

The China Syndrome

Graphic by Karen Temple


There is a wise proverb that says, “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you do is stop digging.” Sadly, when it comes to the Trudeau government’s arrest and detention of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer, Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, in Vancouver last December, they have chosen to get a bigger shovel and dug themselves in deeper. If they keep digging, they will soon be in China. Meng is also the daughter of the founder of Huawei, and China’s most successful businesswoman. She is as an important a figure to the Chinese as Bill Gates is to the Americans or Jim Balsillie is to Canada. Her detention has greatly angered the Chinese government who continue to call for her release and has set back Canada-China relations to its lowest point in six decades.  

The Chinese government continues to insist the arrest was improper, not based on the rule of law and was instead politically motivated.

Within days of the Meng arrest, China retaliated and detained two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, on allegations of endangering China’s national security. They also changed the sentence of Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian man accused of drug smuggling in China, from a long prison term to the death sentence. In China, as in the United States, capital punishment is allowed for certain crimes.  

The reaction of the Trudeau government to the Chinese response was to pull a hissy fit and lecture the Chinese about how Canada is a “rule of law” country and that the government had no choice in the matter and was obligated under the “rule of law” provisions to comply with the extradition request from the Americans. There seemed to have been no thought from the Canadian side that China is not bound by the same laws or principles and has a completely different set of rules as a communist country. To make matters worse, the same officials who rubber stamped the detention of Meng then advised Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to tell a senior Chinese Communist Party official, in the days following the arrest, that China should stop spreading “inaccurate information about the Canadian justice system.

Trudeau then put more salt in the wound by seeking international support to condemn China’s decision to, in his words, “arbitrarily” arrest Kovrig and Spavor. He ignored the fact that their detainment was a direct consequence of his own inaction and later, his tacit approval of the Meng extradition which led to the entire mess in the first place.

Trudeau admitted in the days following her arrest that he was briefed about the pending detention of Meng two days before it happened and did nothing. Asleep at the switch would be a kind descriptive to explain that missive.

Trudeau’s narrative that Canada had to detain Meng and had no choice in the matter is both preposterous and false. Canada is a sovereign nation that has extradition agreements with the Americans and many other countries. Requests are adjudicated on a case by case basis by officials at the Department of Justice Canada, and in this case, in cooperation with Global Affairs Canada and the Privy Council Office (PCO).

The Meng arrest was made at the behest of the Trump administration who have been in a trade war with China for two years. The extradition treaty used by the Americans in this case is more commonly used to capture criminal drug lords, money launderers and murderers seeking to escape U.S. prosecution. Meng has never been accused of any crime anywhere and she has never been charged or arrested for anything anywhere in the world including Canada. She is not wanted for any wrongdoing in Canada.

Michael Spavor, left, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, right, are being held by Chinese authorities

Canada denied China’s claim that the arrest was politically motivated and would not comment on why, within days of her arrest, U.S. President Donald Trump mused that Meng might be let go if it was in America’s interests to do so. Trump’s comments reinforced the view that officials at Global Affairs Canada and the Department of Justice Canada succumbed to American pressure and went along with the request to appease the United States in the hope that it might help them in their negotiations with the Americans in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) talks and to rescind the unilateral 30 per cent tariff President Trump imposed on Canadian steel exports to the U.S. last year.

Incredibly, it took almost two months after Meng’s arrest in Canada for the U.S. Department of Justice to come up with and then lay 13 criminal charges, including conspiracy, fraud and obstruction, against both Huawei and Meng.

Earlier this month, former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said that the Trudeau government should enlist the help of former Liberal Prime Minister, Jean Chretien to engage the Chinese government to see if he could end the detention of Kovrig and Spavor. Chretien’s spokesperson, Bruce Hartley responded to the Mulroney comments saying that Chretien was prepared to help. (Chretien is a recognized expert on Canada-China relations and has excellent contacts in China going back decades). That both Mulroney and Chretien were signaling publicly that the Trudeau government should send Chretien as an Emissary is telling. It is yet another sign of the ineptitude of officials at Global Affairs, the Department of Justice and within the PMO who are advising the Prime Minister on Canada’s China policy.

Chretien or Mulroney can speak to Trudeau any day of the week so the idea that they went to the press to float the Emissary idea is proof that Trudeau and his officials ignored the sage wisdom and advice of these former PM’s. It is further proof the Trudeau government is doubling down on dumb in this matter instead of seeking a solution to end the debacle. It begs the question, who is running the China file for the government of Canada and what is the end game? Nobody knows. What is clear is that Canada has been the sole loser in this fiasco since it began.

It is hard to imagine a scenario under the previous Mulroney, Campbell, Chretien, Martin or Harper governments where government “civil servants” would have been allowed to so horribly hobble a file, especially the China file.

The Trudeau team have shown a propensity for ignoring the advice, wisdom and experience of a previous generation of very successful leaders. They have treated former Liberal MPs who served with great distinction under John Turner, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin as lepers and generally cast them aside. They have ignored former MPs who have advised them to tone down their anti-energy, anti-western Canada rhetoric and they have ignored other MPs who warned them about the dangers of pitting one region of the country against another for political gain.

The Chretien as an Emissary idea comes as China continues to retaliate against Canada and the Trudeau government. In a crippling blow to farmers, they have banned over $3.5 billion of Canadian canola shipments to China. This was followed by a ban on millions of dollars of pork products from Quebec-based companies.

In what can only be described as a bizarre response to these actions, Trudeau’s International Trade Minister Jim Carr responded to the Chinese saying, “Canada wants to engage with China on the canola issue”, pretending that it had nothing to do with the Canadian government detention of Meng. This charade continued when the Canola Council of Canada got in lockstep with Minister Carr insisting they will show the Chinese their product is safe and meets all standards — yadda, yadda, yadda. The Chinese, of course, formally claim that they banned the canola because it was not meeting regulatory issues and requirements (wink, wink).

Making matters worse was a June 2019 visit to Ottawa by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence who linked the liberation of the two Canadians imprisoned over the Meng detainment to American trade talks with China. This only served to build credibility with the Chinese position that the Meng arrest was politically motivated. Pence also pressed Trudeau to follow the American lead and ban Huawei from supplying equipment for Canada’s next generation of 5G wireless networks. He argued letting Huawei participate would be counter to American security interests. He did not mention that banning Huawei would be commercially beneficial and worth billions of dollars to American technology companies who compete with Huawei in Canada and globally.

Despite China’s escalating retaliatory response, both Trudeau and Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland continue to publicly say that Meng’s arrest is lawful and that she is part of a judicial proceeding that is divorced from political maneuvering.

Behind the scenes Canadian officials continue to throw gas on the fire in the Meng case. In documents released under the Access to Information Act, a briefing note advises Chrystia Freeland to, “Urge China to desist from inaccurate portrayals of Canada’s judicial process and treatment of Ms. Meng.” The memorandum states as a main objective after advocating for Kovrig’s and Spavor’s “immediate release” that she should remind the Chinese that, “As the international community looks on, urge China not to damage bilateral relationship, over a single consular case however high profile”. Officials also urge Freeland to deliver a key message: Canada is treating Meng better than Kovrig and Spavor. In short, the strategy by officials seems to be to get Freeland to try to publicly embarrass China into releasing the Canadians while not budging on Meng. The Chinese response to this strategy was more anger. Ambassador Lu said China felt like it had been stabbed in the back by a friend and suggested the Canadian approach to China was racist. He reiterated the arrest of Meng was political and was quick to point out that the Trudeau government claim of rule of law did not seem to apply to SNC Lavalin.

On June 13, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland completely dismissed China’s latest demand for Canada to free Meng Wanzhou, saying it would set a dangerous precedent that could endanger all Canadians abroad. “It would be a very dangerous precedent indeed for Canada to alter its behavior when it comes to honouring an extradition to treaty in response to external pressure,” she said.

That Freeland said this with a straight face is laughable. The Trudeau government already set that precedent by allowing the extradition treaty process to be abused in the first place when they responded to improper external political pressure by the American government to extradite Meng without charges or cause.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland completely dismissed China’s latest demand for Canada to free Meng Wanzhou.

Freeland then went on to say that, “When we think about the implications of setting such a precedent, we could easily find ourselves in a situation whereby acting in a single, specific case we could actually make all Canadians around the world less safe.”

The fact is that the actions of both Trudeau and Freeland in agreeing to allow Meng to be detained in the first place have already endangered Canadians. Just ask Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

To the Chinese and others, Freeland continuously repeated the talking point that, “It is important to understand that under the Canadian legal system and Constitution there can be no political interference in the judicial process” is beyond the pale. Think SNC Lavalin. It is a delusionary line from a credibility starved government that was caught with both hands in the till in the SNC Lavalin scandal.

For China, this scandal started with Meng’s improper arrest and it can only end, and things can only start to get back on track once she is released.

“What I can say is that the current difficulties in China-Canada relations are caused solely by the Canadian side, who must assume full responsibility,” said Geng Shuang, the spokesman for China’s foreign ministry. “We hope it will take China’s solemn concerns seriously, release Ms. Meng Wanzhou without further delay and ensure that she returns to China safe and sound and take concrete measures to bring bilateral relations back to the right track at an early date.”

The Chinese have made it clear they do not take Prime Minister Trudeau seriously. Beijing rebuffed a personal attempt by Trudeau to engage them on the matter back in January when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang refused to take a call from him. One week before the scheduled call, Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to Canada, called Meng’s arrest a “miscarriage of justice ˮ in an opinion column published by The Globe and Mail. The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi refuses to meet with Freeland. The Liberal government strategy of trying to embarrass or lecture China has significantly backfired.

In fact, it has had the complete opposite effect of further enraging Beijing.  In January Ambassador Lu wrote in TheHill Times that China was the victim of a double standard from the U.S., Canada and Britain. “The reason why some people are used to arrogantly adopting double standards is due to Western egotism and white supremacy,” Lu wrote. “What they have been doing is not showing respect for the rule of law but mocking and trampling the rule of law.”

In remarks earlier this month at the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa, Lu said that “The Chinese side is not responsible for this issue. But the Chinese government is waiting to make a joint effort with the Canadian side and meet each other halfway. Hint: release Meng and we can talk.

It is very evident that the Trudeau government has no game plan to get Canada out of this mess. The main reason is the officials who got us into the mess at Global Affairs and the Department of Justice are still managing the file. They do not seem to understand very basic things about China. The first is that China is China and China does not want to be the West.   China has a socialist Marxist model of government that functions under the umbrella of the Communist Party of China (CPC). China is a member in good standing of the World Trading Organization and many other multi-lateral bodies. Commercial complaints between countries are adjudicated in those international forms-not via an abuse of the extradition process with trumped up arrest warrants. The idea that Canadian officials thought they could detain and arrest one of the most high-profile Chinese people on the planet without any consequences to Canada is stupefying. Worse, these same people expected China to not retaliate and were further shocked when the Chinese used the rules available in their system of governance to strike back at us…DUH.

The Trudeau government are solely responsible for this mess. They stumbled into it with little thought, no strategy, no end game and no reason. It is time to listen to our former Prime Ministers and other respected Canada-China experts who see the arrest for what it is-politics. 

Prime Minister Trudeau should send Mr. Chretien to Beijing to negotiate for the release of the two Canadians in exchange for the release of Meng. And for those who say Canada cannot release Meng because it would be a breach of our duty under the rule of law, I beg to differ. A document containing the legal opinion of Meng's lawyers clearly shows Canada has the authority under our current law to release her immediately. It’s time to stop the hemorrhaging and stop the stupidity. The Chinese keep telling us this, but we just aren’t listening.

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