(CN) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he will not bow to pressure to release Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in exchange for two Canadians being held by Chinese authorities.
“Randomly arresting Canadians doesn’t give you leverage over the government of Canada,” Trudeau told The Associated Press.
Meng was arrested on December 1, 2018, at the Vancouver International Airport, accused by the United States of lying to major American banks about Chinese telecom company Huawei’s attempts to carry out business with Iran in violation with U.S. trade sanctions.
China, in turn, arrested Canadian Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor just after Meng’s arrest. Kovrig, a 50-year-old former diplomat, works for the Crisis Group think tank and was living in Dandong near the China-North Korea border when he was detained by Chinese officials. Spavor, a 42-year-old Canadian consultant and entrepreneur, is director of an organization promoting tourism and investment in North Korea called the Paektu Cultural Exchange and facilitated former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s 2013 visit to North Korea.
The pair had been held without charges since December 2018 until this week, when they were charged with “spying on national secrets.”
While China has claimed no retaliatory connection between Meng’s arrest and that of the “Two Michaels,” as they have come to be called, it is widely believed to be otherwise. Some have branded it an attempt at “hostage diplomacy,” meant to coerce the Canadian government into releasing Meng.
In a letter obtained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 19 former Canadian diplomats and politicians urged Trudeau to end the extradition proceedings. They said not doing so puts more Canadians at risk overseas and undermines Canada’s ability to make other foreign policy decisions regarding China, such as Huawei’s involvement in installing 5G technology in Canada.
The group of signatories, which include a former Supreme Court Justice, former ambassadors and various past foreign policy advisers, pointed out that with the glacial pace of the extradition process — with its rights to appeal and judicial review at each step — Meng may not be extradited until 2024.
In the meantime, they said, Kovrig and Spavor will continue to languish in a Chinese prison.
“Their detention was completely unlawful and unjustified. Reliable accounts describe their conditions of confinement as tantamount to torture. The Two Michaels were taken in direct retaliation for the arrest in Canada of Meng Wanzhou,” the letter says.
“Of course, it does not sit well with anyone to yield to bullying or blackmail. The means chosen by China in this instance to advance its interests are indeed repugnant. However, resisting China’s pressure is no guarantee that it will never be applied again in the future. Indeed, if Canada resits the pressure arising from the detention of the Two Michaels, China might well decide that next time it will need to escalate by detaining more than two Canadians.”
Trudeau told the Canadian Press that he disagrees with the dignitaries, saying capitulation would only jeopardize the safety of Canadians who travel and live abroad.
“And if countries around the world, including China, realize that by arbitrarily arresting random Canadians they can get what they want out of Canada politically, well, that makes an awful lot more Canadians who travel around the world vulnerable to that kind of pressure,” he said.