U.S. ambassador to Canada says politics not behind Huawei arrest
Published Tuesday, December 11, 2018 12:17PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, December 11, 2018 5:57PM EST
OTTAWA – U.S. President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Canada says China’s claim that there is a political motive behind the arrest of a prominent Chinese telecommunications executive is “absolutely false.”
Canadian officials arrested Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on Dec.1, at the request of the United States government, inflaming diplomatic tensions between Canada and China.
Other than issuing the categorical denial, Kelly Craft demurred on the ongoing China-U.S. diplomatic tensions that Canada has found itself in the middle of, citing the ongoing judicial process related to Meng’s arrest.
Craft made the comments while speaking with a small table of reporters at her Ottawa residence Tuesday, before heading back to D.C. for a meeting with the president.
During the wide-ranging conversation, Craft also spoke at length about the trilateral trade talks between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico that have occupied the majority of her time in the role. The negotiations culminated in a renegotiated NAFTA, called CUSMA here, but the USMCA in America.
Here’s what else the ambassador had to say trade, tariffs, and Trump’s tone.
On the lingering tariffs
Craft said that the lingering steel and aluminum tariffs between Canada and the U.S. are actively being discussed at the U.S. Commerce Department and couldn’t say whether or not Canada lost its leverage to see them lifted when it agreed to sign the new deal in Buenos Aires.
She said that from Trump’s perspective, his priority is the American economy and workers, but that the “goodwill” generated by the fact there’s a new NAFTA is helping the dialogue over the tariffs, taking some of the uncertainty and tension out of the conversation.
On keeping ‘eyes open’ on China
According to the ambassador, the so-called China clause -- a controversial clause in CUSMA that requires those in the deal to notify the other countries should they enter into a free trade agreement with a "non-market" country -- is important for all countries to be able to consider the deals their allies are making.
Craft said that U.S. concerns about China stealing intellectual property was part of the NAFTA talks, and one of the reasons for the updated wording on IP within the new trade deal.
She said Trump’s motivation behind including the clause is taking care of American workers first, and that the ongoing U.S. trade war with China and hesitation to trade with them stems from concerns over “security.” She said all countries should be cautious and “keep our eyes open” about China’s actions and involvement in things like infrastructure projects in other countries, such as Africa.
"I think we all should be concerned," she said.
On CUSMA in Congress
The ambassador said the number one issue going forward will be getting the new trade deal ratified through the three countries’ legislatures. As part of this, she and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are prioritizing engaging with the batch of elected officials on Capitol Hill, many of which are new and Democrats.
“I’m not worried, Ambassador Lighthizer is not worried,” said Craft. “This is really not a partisan issue,” she said.
As for whether or not she thinks it’s possible that the deal will be ratified before the 2019 federal election in Canada, she said she hopes it will. “It would be very helpful and more calming,” she said.
Craft also complimented Canada’s negotiating team, calling them “fierce” negotiators.
She was with Lighthizer and senior adviser Jared Kushner when they got word that they had a deal on that late September night.
“It was very tense,” she said, adding that the U.S. dairy and auto teams worked overnight in the lead up to the talks concluding.
“We were relieved that the unknown now was the known and we had a deal and that all three sides were actually very pleased,” Craft said.
On Trump’s tone, playing to his voters
Speaking on being a diplomat under a president with an affinity for Twitter, Craft said his tone doesn’t affect who she is or what she does.
“The president has an agenda, from day one… his tone has not changed,” said Craft. “That is who he is… his tone is directed at the people that voted him in office and that’s all he’s really concerned about.”
Craft said that American workers “have not had a voice, they have pretty much been invisible and for once they feel visible and they feel needed and they feel wanted, and he responds to that.”
Craft said that Trump values “human dignity,” and that he understands the working class.
She attributed the uptick in voter turnout during the midterms to Trump.
“Regardless of who they voted for in the midterms, he is the reason that we had this huge movement of people voting,” she said.
On Trump-Trudeau relations
Craft said she’s confident that Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s relationship will grow stronger, after a considerable period of tension, which included the U.S. president’s post-G7 outburst where he called Trudeau “very dishonest and weak.”
No official visit to Canada is in the works for Trump at this time, but according to Craft, every time she talks with the president, he asks about his neighbours to the north.
“He’s always asking about you know, ‘How is Prime Minister Trudeau?’ ‘How’s Justin?’ He actually really likes Prime Minister Trudeau,” she said.
On state of affairs in the Oval
Asked to comment on the rate of turnout within Trump’s inner circle, Craft said the burnout is “very normal” and that there needs to be “a renewed sense of energy,” going in to the final two years of his presidency.
Also, Craft said she “not at all” concerned about the prospect of domestic politics descending into chaos once the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in 2016 are released.
“The president is focused on the economy, trade, and the United States and North America. That is what he is focused on,” she said.
On what surprised her about Canada
Asked what surprised her most about Canada, Craft said it was how Canada preserves its buildings, and prioritizes maintaining historic integrity.
Citing the closing of Centre Block, Craft said she was impressed that Canada wanted to make sure that it will be there for future generations.
“Especially that you placed that before 24 Sussex,” she said.