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Chinese government initiated dialogue to release two Michaels: Canada's ambassador to the U.S.

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EDMONTON -

Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. says the Chinese government initiated the dialogue to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Speaking to CTV’s Question Period Sunday, ambassador Kirsten Hillman said that as the judicial negotiation of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s case with the U.S. Department of Justice came closer to a resolution, China began to bow to pressure to release the two Canadians.

“I think in having felt for over 1,000 days incredible pressure from Canada [and] from our allies around the world that we had mobilized in regards to the situation of the Michaels… I think the Chinese government decided that, you know, it was time to put this behind them and move on,” Hillman said.

Kovrig and Spavor, detained on espionage charges since Dec. 10, 2018, arrived in Canada on Saturday, just one day after a British Columbia court dropped the extradition case against Meng over fraud and conspiracy charges related to American sanctions against Iran.

The detainment of the two Canadians has largely been seen as retaliation for the Chinese telecom giant CFO’s arrest, though China has consistently denied that the cases were in any way connected.

When asked if this was a case of hostage diplomacy, Hillman said the facts seem to demonstrate so.

“Well, I mean, I think everyone is drawing the conclusions that the facts seem to demonstrate [that],” Hillman said.

She says the U.S. did not make the release of the two Michaels a condition of the resolution of the charges against Meng, noting that the resolution was a completely independent process.

“As the resolution for Ms. Meng was heading towards success… the Chinese government made its decision,” she said.

“And its decision was that it was no longer in its interest to continue holding Michaels, and so they started the process in talking to our officials in Beijing about making arrangements to have the Michaels leave.”

Hillman thanked the “incredibly talented” consular officers in Beijing and Ottawa for their hard work behind the scenes in bringing the Michaels home, in addition to Canada’s allies that stood up in the declaration against arbitrary detention.

“I think it's really important to underline… that Canada didn't ever back down from our commitment to international law. We never succumbed to the pressure that, unfortunately, the two Michaels were the victims of,” Hillman said.

“It's not specifically China focused, you know, there are other countries that engage in tactics like this and I think we have to think about what we can do from here to make sure it never happens again,” she added.​ 

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