Canada-China relations at 'low point' and could fall further: analyst
The detentions of two Canadians in China may not be the end of worsening relations between the two countries, according to an analyst and two former diplomats.
“While Canada-China relations have hit a low point, we may still be going lower,” Scott McKnight, managing editor of the China Open Research Network at the University of Toronto said Monday on CTV’s Your Morning.
Businessman Michael Spavor and on-leave diplomat Michael Kovrig have both been detained in China in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.
Meng has been released from custody on bail and is awaiting a hearing on whether she will be extradited to the U.S. to face charges of fraud.
“We have to unpack what exactly the Chinese are going for. They’re looking to put as much pressure on the Canadian government as possible,” McKnight said.
“The way the Chinese are interpreting this is [that] Canada has one of their own, and they want her back.”
John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, met with Kovrig on Friday and Spavor on Sunday.
Jeremy Kinsman, a former diplomat who served as Canada’s ambassador to Russia and the European Union among other postings, agreed with McKnight’s assessment that Canada-China relations are at risk of falling even further.
“We’re not naïve about China, but we need that relationship,” he told CTV News Channel.
“It’s our second-biggest trading partner, and right now what we’re looking at is watching it go down the drain.”
Kinsman said it was a positive sign that China allowed Canadian officials access to the two men within days of their detentions.
“China’s simply accommodating its obligations. It’s doing it faster than they usually do, so that’s probably good news, but the problem remains,” he said.
That problem, Kinsman said, is that the U.S. had created a “really inconvenient mess” for Canada by arresting Meng for crimes that allegedly occurred outside either country.
“We should have gone to the United States and said ‘This thing doesn’t pass the smell test,’” he said.
“I hope, ultimately, the judge would not extradite Mrs. Meng to the United States, but we’ll have to see.”
Global Affairs has said little publicly about what happened during McCallum’s meetings with Kovrig and Spavor. Guy Saint-Jacques, McCallum’s predecessor as ambassador, told CTV News Channel that Chinese authorities likely wouldn’t have allowed either meeting to last much longer than 30 minutes.
According to Saint-Jacques, McCallum would likely have passed along messages from the detainees’ families, assessed their physical conditions and asked if their needs were being met regarding food and medicine.
“The priority is to find out as much as possible on the condition of the person,” he said.
The ex-ambassador said McCallum would also be in contact with Chinese officials, likely telling them to find ways to “lower the temperature” between the two countries.
“Ottawa is very serious that this could do some serious damage to the relationship,” Saint-Jacques said.
Canada has traditionally had less frosty relations with China than the U.S. and some other major Western nations.
McKnight said that might have led the Canadian government to expect more support from the international community than it has received since Meng’s arrest.
“Unfortunately, the response from Canada’s major partners toward China has been rather lukewarm and not quite what we expected,” he said.