Trump's pick for U.S. ambassador to Canada cites Huawei ban, increased NATO spending as top priorities

The woman nominated to serve as the new U.S. ambassador to Canada says she plans to apply fresh pressure on Ottawa to ban Huawei from taking part in Canada's 5G network.

Aldona Wos appeared before the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee today for a confirmation hearing

Aldona Wos, U.S. President Trump's nominee to serve as the country's next ambassador to Canada, told senators she would put pressure on Canada to ban Huawei from its 5G network and increase defence spending if she's confirmed as ambassador. (Harry Lynch/The Associated Press)

The woman nominated to serve as the new U.S. ambassador to Canada says she plans to apply fresh pressure on Ottawa to ban Huawei from taking part in Canada's 5G network.

During an appearance before the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, Aldona Wos said that, if confirmed, she will "... build on our existing bilateral cooperation to counter China's malign activities, and continue to raise concerns regarding the authorization of access to the 5G network by Huawei and other untrusted vendors."

Canada is the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance — which includes the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand — that has not banned or restricted the Chinese tech giant from helping to build the country's 5G network.

Ottawa is carrying out a comprehensive review of Huawei's potential role in 5G that includes a broader, strategic look at how the technology can foster economic growth.

U.S. wants Canada to ban Huawei

Washington has threatened repeatedly to reconsider its intelligence-sharing arrangement with Ottawa if the company is allowed to participate in developing the sensitive technology, which will give internet users a speedier connection and provide vast data capacity.

The U.S. argues the company can be compelled to act as a spy agency for the Chinese government, and that it poses a significant national security risk. 

Wos also offered broad support for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians being detained in China. Both men were taken into custody by Chinese authorities in December of 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, on a U.S. extradition request.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shake hands with U.S. President Donald Trump as they hold a bilateral meeting during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019. Trump has put pressure on NATO allies, including Canada, to increase defence spending. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

"I will make clear the United States government's deep concern over China's retaliatory and arbitrary detention of two Canadian citizens," she said. 

In her opening remarks, Wos highlighted the integration of the Canada-U.S. relationship in the areas of defence and national security and vowed to deepen those ties.

"The United States-Canada relationship is one of enduring strength. It is built on broad and deep ties between our peoples, shared values, extensive trade, strategic global cooperation and defence partnerships," she said, reading from prepared notes.

Defence spending a thorny issue

Wos also vowed to apply more pressure on Canada to increase its defence spending — an issue raised by both the previous Obama administration and the current Trump administration.

"If confirmed, I will encourage Canada to provide critical capabilities to the alliance by meeting the commitments that all NATO leaders agreed to in the 2014 Wales pledge," she said.

The Wales pledge calls on all NATO members that are not currently spending the equivalent of 2 per cent of their country's gross domestic product (GDP) on defence to gradually increase spending and move toward that goal within a decade.

Canada's defence spending in 2019 was equal to 1.27 per cent of its GDP, according to NATO figures. There is no plan currently to meet the 2 per cent goal.

Canada's current defence policy calls for a 73 per cent budget increase by 2026-27, which would bring defence spending to 1.4 per cent of GDP.

If confirmed, Wos will replace Kelly Craft, President Donald Trump's first ambassador to Canada who oversaw the re-negotiation of NAFTA. 

Craft's service impressed many in the White House and she left her post in Ottawa to become the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Wos faced fewer questions than other nominees at today's hearing. Much of the focus was on an appearance by Lisa Kenna, a long-time State Department employee nominated to serve as ambassador to Peru. 

Kenna worked in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's office at the time of the Ukraine pressure campaign that led to President Trump's impeachment. 

Wos asked about Canada-U.S. border closure

Wos was asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire about COVID-related restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border. 

Shaheen said companies, hospitals and other medical providers in the northern part of her state have been negatively affected by the closure.

"Because of the nature of the pandemic that we all face, it is currently by mutual decision beneficial to both our countries to continue to have restrictions at our border," Wos replied.

"But those restrictions are mostly for tourist and recreational activities of travel through the border. It is critical for both our countries to continue to have our goods and services be able to flow freely through the borders."

Shaheen said she hopes Wos can work to ensure that the border closure doesn't continue to disrupt trade between border states and Canada.

With files from the Canadian Press

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