VANCOUVER — A former ambassador to China says Wednesday’s decision in the extradition case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou could also determine the fate of two Canadians detained in China.
David Mulroney, who served as Canada’s ambassador to the People’s Republic of China between 2009 and 2012, said if Meng is released then he expects China will eventually follow suit and release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
“I think the Chinese would wait for a few months possibly, but then they would wrap up their case against the two Canadians and they would probably come home,” Mulroney said in an interview on Tuesday.
The detention of Kovrig and Spavor is widely seen as arbitrary retaliation against Canada for the arrest of Meng, who is wanted on fraud charges in the United States.
If Meng’s case instead proceeds to the next stage, Mulroney said he worries that China may choose to more actively prosecute the two Canadians on the national security charges they face.
But while Meng’s arrest in December 2018 was a lightning rod for the collapse of Canada-China relations, Mulroney said he believes China’s behaviour over the past year has had the effect of “decoupling” the case from its initial influence on bilateral relations.
China’s interference in Hong Kong and other events have caused Canadians to become disenchanted with the idea or goal of returning to some kind of “golden status quo” with the Asian superpower, he said.
“I think if Ms. Meng were to go back to China, it would probably mean good news on the part of the two Michaels but I don’t think it would or should change Canada-China relations,” said Mulroney, who is also a distinguished fellow with the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.
“I think even the most ardent China boosters have been forced to reconsider things and I think have been forced to admit that there’s no going back to a golden status quo ante. It never existed and China is anything but a normal partner.”
Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes of the B.C. Supreme Court is scheduled to release her ruling on the issue of so-called double criminality on Wednesday in Vancouver.
The legal arguments centre on whether the allegations Meng is facing in the United States would be a crime in Canada.
The decision could lead to her release or it could start a new round of legal arguments, including on whether her arrest at Vancouver’s airport in December 2018 was unlawful.
The United States has charged her with fraud over allegations she violated American sanctions against Iran, which she and the Chinese telecommunications giant have denied.
Meng’s lawyers have argued the court should dismiss the case because Canada has rejected similar sanctions, while the Crown has said the judge’s role is to determine if there’s evidence of fraud.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that Canada has continued to engage diplomatically both with the United States and China over the issues surrounding Meng, Kovrig and Spavor.
“One of the good things about having a truly independent justice system is that we don’t need to apologize or explain for the decisions taken by our independent justice system,” he said.
“We have our confidence in that system, in its independence and we of course will continue to abide by and defend our system.”
But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian described Meng’s arrest during a news conference Tuesday as political and warned of consequences if she is not released.
“The U.S. and Canada abused their bilateral extradition treaty and arbitrarily took compulsory measures against a Chinese citizen without cause. This is entirely a serious political incident that grossly violates the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese citizen,” Zhao said in a transcription published online by the ministry.
“The Canadian side should immediately correct its mistake, release Ms. Meng and ensure her safe return to China at an early date so as to avoid any continuous harm to China-Canada relations.”
Mulroney said many Canadians’ perspectives on China have likely shifted amid stories of human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, interference in Hong Kong and the treatment of the two Canadian detainees.
But whatever happens in the Vancouver courtroom won’t have a measurable impact on China’s view of Canada, he said.
“China has always seen Canada as a small country, as a dependency of the United States, as a country that it has certain interests in but not one who should arrest someone who is virtually a princess in Chinese society,” he said.
Yves Tiberghien, director and associate professor of the Institute of Asian Research and Political Science at the University of British Columbia, said Canada is one of many countries that has been caught up in U.S. extradition cases related to sanction violations in recent years.
Whatever the ruling, it’s an opportunity to show the strength of the legal system. And if the decision falls in Meng’s favour, it won’t likely damage Canada-U.S. relations thanks to a shared respect for the rule of law, he said.
“The hopeful, best impact would be to demonstrate worldwide that we have a legal system that’s impartial and it was wrong to have bluster and all this anger,” he said.
“This is the fork in the road, this is an interesting moment.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2020.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press