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Don Martin: After Trudeau's toughest talk, the Canada-China meltdown goes radioactive
OTTAWA -- He’s rarely, if ever, been this forceful on a foreign file.
Somehow overnight Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decided to give up on China, endure the diplomatic deep freeze and face the inevitable economic backlash by soundly rejecting the Meng-for-Michaels proposal.
Gone were the usual ‘ums’ and ‘uhs’ he mutters while trying to remember talking points.
In the case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s possible extradition to the U.S. and the linked-in imprisonment of Michaels Spavor and Kovrig on bogus spying charges, the prime minister unleashed his position Thursday with no hesitancy in either official language.
If the proposed swap went ahead, Trudeau warned, China would be emboldened to become unscrupulous hostage-takers, seizing foreigners for trade when one of their own gets in trouble overseas.
It was an uncharacteristically firm response for a guy who always seeks kinder, gentler reactions to global tensions involving Canada.
He could’ve simply ducked behind the explanation of this mess crawling along in a court hearing process which could ultimately free Meng in any event.
But he didn’t. And he went further.
Trudeau basically ripped and ridiculed 19 prominent Canadians advocating capitulation, flipping the bird at heavyweights from the Chretien, Martin, Harper and Mulroney governments for a proposal that would put Canadian travellers of the future in danger of being kidnapped.
It’s not clear what motivated so many big names to decide now, 18 months after the standoff began, was the right time to advocate for a hostage swap as a means to improve the China connection.
Their argument that the current justice minister or the prime minster has the power to stop the legal extradition process and simply send Meng packing for home aboard a private Huawei jet wasn’t exactly a revelation.
And they must be aware our more important U.S. relationship would be hurt by simply ditching an extradition request our courts have so far decided is legitimate and should proceed.
But, as of today, Trudeau has wisely decreed this will never happen – and it’s hard to dispute the logic behind his decision.
When China made it clear they’re game for a hostage swap, that put to rest any pretence the charges filed against Spavor and Kovrig were somehow disconnected to the Meng extradition process.
And if it this works once, why would anyone believe it wouldn’t be repeated every time a Chinese national of Communist Party value is apprehended in another country?
Today’s developments will have the Conservative opposition gasping. They’ve advocated for a tough-on-China approach generally and for Trudeau to act against China for detaining the Canadians specifically. Now they’ve got what they demanded. Gulp.
There’s going to be a hefty price to pay for this, of course.
Lumber, lobsters, just about anything heading for export to China is bound to face closer scrutiny, paperwork slowdowns and perhaps outright obstruction to avenge Trudeau’s position. New markets will need to be established to fill the trading void.
This also appears to be the kiss of death to Huawei’s plan to help develop the 5G telecommunications network in Canada, which will make bad things worse.
The Canada-China relationship is clearly in meltdown mode and there’s no stopping the damage from going radioactive now.
Welcome to Canada’s version of the China syndrome.