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Latest in diplomatic tussle not good news for two detained in China: former Canadian ambassador

Last Updated Jan 23, 2019 at 3:12 pm PST

Michael Kovrig (left) and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians detained in China, are shown in these 2018 images taken from video. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

Former Canadian ambassador to China says latest tussle between Washington, Beijing not good news for Kovrig, Spavor

BEIJING (NEWS 1130) – The latest diplomatic back-and-forth between the US and China over a top tech executive arrested in Vancouver is not good news for two Canadians being detained by Beijing, according to a former Canadian ambassador.

China has demanded the US drop a request that Canada extradite Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou, shifting blame to Washington in a case that has severely damaged Beijing’s relations with Ottawa.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Meng’s case was out of the ordinary and Canada’s extradition treaty with the U.S. infringed on the “safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens.”

Hua said China demands that the U.S. withdraw the arrest warrant against Meng and “not make a formal extradition request to the Canadian side.”

There are reports Washington is set to file an official request with the Canadian government, facing a January 30 deadline, and a former Canadian ambassador to China suggests there is no way the US will listen to Beijing’s demands.

“It won’t happen,” says Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016.

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“I had assumed right from the outset that the extradition request was based on solid evidence that has been put together by the US Department of Justice, so I am not surprised to see confirmation that they want to proceed.”

Saint-Jacques, who is now a senior fellow at the University of Alberta’s China Institute and a fellow at the Institute of International Studies in Montreal, says China now realizes the problem will not go away.

“Unfortunately for [Canada] it means that they will likely continue to put pressure on us and try to convince us that this is all political and we should let Mrs. Meng go.”

And that means, he believes, two Canadians detained by the Chinese government — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor — will not be seeing freedom any time soon.

“The interrogation sessions will continue, despite that fact that in the case of Mr. Kovrig that he should be subject to the terms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. It says you are subject to diplomatic immunity while you serve in a country but also, in the future, you can not be interrogated on the work you did while you were at an embassy.”

Saint-Jacques points out that Kovrig has said that is the sole focus of the interrogations he has endured so far.

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The repercussions from the Meng arrest also appear to include a death sentence in the case of another Canadian — Robert Schellenberg — who was convicted of drug smuggling in China.

“We are at a point where it would be useful to have a face-to-face meeting with the Chinese,” he says. “they are obviously very pre-occupied by what’s happening with Mrs. Meng, but for us it would be an opportunity to say we have to find ways to lower the temperature and that we have no choice but to comply with the terms of our extradition treaty with the US.”

Saint-Jacques also believes Ottawa needs to impress upon Beijing that it is damaging not only bilateral relations, but also China’s global image.

“In this regard, I think they have been taken a bit by surprise by the campaign that has launched by Canada to get international support. The Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs have approached 19 countries. I also think the letter signed by more than 140 former diplomats, including two former foreign affairs ministers, plus a group of well-known scholars is sending a message — nobody is protected and any one of us could be arrested. Is this the image China wants to create?”

Hopefully, he says, the countries will find a way launch a dialogue but Saint-Jacques expects there will not be an end to the difficulties.

“The fundamental question is the ongoing trade war between the US and China. [Beijing] should direct its anger toward the US rather than kicking us. Canada ended up in this situation thanks to the US. It’s something we would have avoided if we could have but, again, we are bound by the terms of the extradition treaty that we have with the US.”

Meng has been living under house arrest in her Vancouver mansion while her case is under deliberation.