'Our approach ... is working': Trudeau trumpets Western support against China's detention of 2 Canadians

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government’s diplomatic outreach to allies has galvanized the Western world against the arbitrary detention of two Canadian nationals imprisoned in China.

PM, in Montreal for a transit funding announcement, spoke to reporters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a news conference in Montreal on Thursday, where he announced a funding investment into the expansion of the Montreal Metro blue line. Responding to reporters, Trudeau said Canada's diplomatic approach to the arbitrary detention of two Canadians is working. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government's diplomatic outreach to allies has galvanized the Western world against the arbitrary detention of two Canadian nationals imprisoned in China.

Speaking to reporters in Montreal at a transit funding announcement, Trudeau said U.S. President Donald Trump and others have raised the issue with the highest levels of China's leadership, and the pressure is mounting on the Communist regime in Beijing to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

"One of the things that we've seen is that our approach of highlighting, around the world, the concerns that people have with the arbitrary detention of two Canadians by China, is working ... countries are concerned not just for Canadians but the challenges this poses to the rule of law and to the international rules-based order," Trudeau said. "Canada will always stand up clearly for the well-being of Canadians and for their interests, but we also stand up for our rules and values around the world, and that is something that our allies appreciate.

"The fact that there are so many people, not just the United States, but others, who are speaking clearly and strongly to China that this behaviour is not in their interest, not in China's interest, and not indeed in keeping with the peace, and security and the rules-based order that we've established in the world is a very important and effective message."

The two men were detained after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested at the Vancouver Airport in December at the request of the United States. The U.S. is pursuing her extradition so she can be criminally prosecuted for allegedly doing business with Iran, contrary to sanctions.

Trudeau said he had a number of "face-to-face exchanges" with Chinese President Xi Jinping while in Osaka for the G20 meeting last weekend.

Trudeau said he has received confirmation Trump himself raised the arrest of the two Canadians with Xi. Trump and Xi are locked in a series of high-stakes trade negotiations as the U.S. looks to rebalance the flow of goods and services between the world's two largest economies.

In an Oval Office meeting last month with Trudeau, Trump said he would raise the plight of Kovrig and Spavor in his planned meeting with Xi, as a favour to Canada.

Canadians Michael Spavor, left, and Michael Kovrig, right, were detained after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested at the Vancouver Airport in December at the request of the United States. (The Associated Press/International Crisis Group/The Canadian Press)

But an official with China's Foreign Ministry said yesterday it would be "naive" for Trudeau to think that Trump's intervention would do much to secure the freedom of the Canadians held by the regime.

"I would like to caution the Canadian side against being too naive," said Geng Shuang. "First, it shouldn't be so naive as to believe that asking its so-called ally to pressure China will work. China is a country with the rule of law, and the judicial authorities handle cases independently. China's judicial sovereignty brooks no interference.

"Second, it shouldn't be so naive as to believe that its so-called ally will earnestly pursue a Canadian agenda," the spokesperson said. "They will only pay a lip service, at best. The matter is, after all, between China and Canada."

While Geng said China's judicial independence — an independence that most observers agree is largely non-existent as the Communist Party influences decisions both directly and indirectly — means Trump's lobbying is largely meaningless, China has called on Canada to ignore its own judicial process and release Meng.

Under decades-old extradition agreements, Canada is obliged to comply with a U.S. request to detain a person suspected of breaking U.S. law.

"On the contrary what we're seeing really is that our allies (are) helping us and showing they're concerned about the behaviour of China towards Canada," Trudeau said Thursday when asked about Geng's 'naive' remarks.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has lampooned Trudeau's attempts to secure the release of the two Canadians — Kovrig and Spavor have been behind bars since December — and end a diplomatic spat that has threatened Canada's meat and canola exports to the massive Asian market.

"Justin Trudeau's poor judgment on the world stage and weak approach to China have resulted in serious and in some cases dire consequences for Canadians," Scheer said.

"Each time China has taken these actions, Trudeau has failed to stand up for Canada. Like Donald Trump during NAFTA negotiations, China has learned it can walk all over Canada, without consequence, with Trudeau in charge. That has to end now."

The Conservative leader has taken a hard-line approach to China, calling it the world's "strongest propagator of authoritarian values" while citing the Asian country's posturing in the Arctic as a threat to Canada's national security.

If elected this October, Scheer has promised to:

  • End a funding agreement with the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that bankrolls projects in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Launch a formal complaint at the World Trade Organization against China over its blockade of Canadian canola products.
  • Place more restraints on investments by Chinese state-owned enterprises.

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press

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