A potential return for Meng may not guarantee release of Kovrig, Spavor: experts
Published Saturday, December 5, 2020 5:09PM EST
OTTAWA -- Almost two years after Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Vancouver's airport, the Huawei executive could be heading home soon.
According to reports from the Wall Street Journal, the United States Department of Justice is ready to make a deal with the telecom giant, offering Meng a deferred prosecution agreement and allow her to return to China in exchange for an admission of wrongdoing in her ongoing criminal case.
This could be welcome news for Canada, as Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been detained in China since Meng’s arrest, in what has widely been seen as retaliation from the Chinese government. Canada has also been subject to trade sanctions on canola, soybean, beef, and pork exports, leading to a 16 per cent decline of exports to China in 2019.
"If she is returned, it opens the door for releasing the two Canadians, and I think that Ottawa is probably busy speaking with Washington and Beijing to try and make sure the solution will be a triangular one," said former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques.
However, experts are divided on how soon the Michaels will come home, or if they’ll be released in exchange at all.
"The idealist in me says perhaps, but the realist says no," former diplomat Colin Robertson told CTV News.
Robertson said this potential deal is only the first step as negotiations with China are always a long process.
"We look at negotiations through different ends of the telescope and that can lead to misunderstandings," he said. "It can also lead to false optimism, which is I'm afraid we might be encouraging right now."
One issue complicating the return of the Michaels is the consistent denial from the Chinese that their detentions were related to Meng's arrest, said Robertson.
In June, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a press conference: "The Meng Wanzhou incident is in essence difference from the cases of the Canadians."
According to Zhao, "the United States aims to oppress Huawei and other Chinese high-tech companies, and Canada is its accomplice."
"This is really between the United States and Ms. Meng," said Charles Burton, associate professor at Brock University and MacDonald-Laurier Institute senior fellow.
"Would the Chinese authorities release Kovrig and Spavor, or would they continue to hold them to continue to exert pressure over Canada with regard to other political matters?"
Though China has said in the past Meng's release "could open up space" to resolve Kovrig and Spavor's detention, the reports of the potential deal so far do not include any guarantees for the Canadians' return.
"That's why we have to try and get as much undertakings from the Americans if they do decide to proceed down this road…that the Michaels are part of it," said Robertson.
While it was U.S. President Donald Trump who issued Meng's extradition request, the incoming Biden administration is expected to remain tough on China. Robertson said the Canadian government needs to continue to press the Americans to make sure Kovrig and Spavor aren't forgotten once the Meng affair is resolved.
"We've been left holding the bag," said Robertson.
"We've been used by the Americans and we've certainly been abused by the Chinese, and the two Michaels are the real victims in this whole tragedy."