China and the World

Not so diplomatic

Canadian ambassador fired for Huawei remarks


McCallum: spoke his mind

When two pandas were born at Toronto zoo in 2016, Canada’s leader Justin Trudeau helped to name them. He had just been elected and he had promised to boost ties with China during his campaign.

The future looked bright, so the cubs were named Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue – meaning Canadian Hope and Canadian Joy.

In light of the deepening crisis over the detention of Huawei’s CFO on Canadian soil, perhaps the pandas ought to be renamed ‘Extradition’ and ‘Trouble’ instead.

Indeed, if things carry on the way they are going, China might even ask for its bears back.

This week the Global Times warned once again that Canada will “pay for it” if it makes the “wrong” decision and doesn’t allow Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou to return to China.

Meng is also the daughter of the company’s founder Ren Zhengfei. She was arrested on December 1 in compliance with a US court order and received bail in Vancouver while Canadian courts decide if she should be extradited – a process that could take some time.

Canada has said it was legally obliged to obey the arrest warrant from its neighbour but that its courts are impartial and that Meng will get a fair hearing.

But Beijing wants Meng back and is furious about how the case is being handled. “The US and Canada abused their bilateral extradition agreement and took compulsory measures against a Chinese citizen for no reason… We also urge Canada to take China’s solemn position seriously, immediately release Meng Wanzhou and ensure her lawful and legitimate rights and interests, and stop risking its own interests for the benefit of the US,” the Foreign Ministry warned on Tuesday.

Shortly after Meng was arrested two Canadians were detained in China: Michael Kovrig, an on-leave diplomat; and Michael Spavor, a businessman. The Beijing News said the men were being investigated for “activities that endanger China’s national security”.

Another Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who was already serving 15 years in prison for drug-related offences, had his case unexpectedly sent back to court, where he was given the death sentence.

Trudeau called the moves “worrying” and “arbitrary” but reiterated that Canada was following legal convention in Meng’s case through its extradition treaty with the US.

“[The rule of law] has served us well as a planet over past decades, so that we have systems of justice that are independent from political interference and Canada will always defend that,” he told a local broadcaster.

But there was at least one Canadian who didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength as the Canadian prime minister: his ambassador to China, John McCallum.

Despite Ottawa’s line that Meng’s case was a matter for the judiciary alone, McCallum made two sets of comments that suggested there was room for some kind of negotiation.

In the first remarks – made to Chinese-language media in Toronto – he appeared to agree with Beijing’s position that the case against Meng was politically motivated.

In the second, he said it would be “great for Canada” if the charges against her were dropped and that any “deal” should include the release of the two Canadians (Kovrig and Spavor).

The mention of a ‘deal’ was the clincher because it ran counter to Ottawa’s line that Meng’s case is being overseen by an independent judiciary.

Last Saturday Trudeau asked for McCallum’s resignation.

By now the Global Times had worked itself up into a highly-wrought emotional state, renewing its attack on Canada and calling it a “whore”.

“Trudeau said recently that Canada is a country ‘that believes in the rule of law’. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous now? Just because the ambassador said something fair but politically incorrect, he had to resign in the end. Isn’t that political interference in this case?” it asked in one of its commentaries.

In McCallum’s partial defence, his remarks about the Meng case reflect the views of many of his compatriots, who are frustrated that the Canadians are taking all the collateral damage in a confrontation that has little to do with them.

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