Two Years for ‘Two Michaels’ as Canada-China Standoff Continues

Ambassador Barton asserts tougher approach to China . . . 

Yesterday was the two-year anniversary of China taking two Canadians – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – into custody. Ottawa and its Western allies believe the detentions are a politically-motivated retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou by Canadian authorities in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant days earlier. China has held the ‘Two Michaels’ in difficult circumstances with minimal consular access. Dominic Barton, Canada’s Ambassador to China, has recently drawn a tougher line against China than in months previous. Testifying at the House of Commons’ Special Committee on Canada-China Relations earlier this week, he stated that while it is important to co-operate with China economically and on global issues such as climate change, “there are times when we need to challenge China. We need to work with partners to hold them to account.”

Is the U.S. considering a deal to drop charges against Huawei exec?

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the U.S. Department of Justice and representatives of Meng Wanzhou are negotiating a deferred prosecution agreement. The deal would require the Huawei CFO to recognize an offence in exchange for the U.S. dropping its extradition request. It is unclear if such an agreement will be reached; it is even more nebulous whether it would lead to the release of the ‘Two Michaels.’ APF Canada’s recent National Opinion Poll shows that the vast majority of Canadians want Ottawa to secure their release, either through negotiation or by pushing China more aggressively.

Diplomacy and statecraft… is Canada failing or doing OK with China?

While the Canada-China relationship has been under a chill at the official level for the past two years, other aspects of the bilateral relationship have continued unabated. Canadian exports to China from March to September this year exceeded C$14.7 billion, a jump of nearly 10 per cent over the same period in 2019. Australia has its own serious problems with China, but unlike Canada, it has criticized and condemned Beijing on the international stage, including calling for a public inquiry at the WHO on COVID-19’s origin and spread. China has retaliated with tariffs and restrictions on Australian products, including barley, beef, and wine – all worth billions to the Australian economy. While Australia’s outspoken anti-Beijing approach seems to have cost it economically, Ottawa’s quieter resistance may have avoided the worst of Beijing’s economic retaliation.