When has Canada had a prize more coveted by the world’s superpowers than the case of Meng Wanzhou?
For a notorious figure of more global import, you might have go all the way back to 1945 and Igor Gouzenko. He was the cipher clerk in the Soviet embassy in Ottawa who defected with a stunning trove of documents on Soviet spying activities in the West. In revealing Joseph Stalin’s espionage network, his defection helped trigger the Cold War and the arms race.
Ms. Meng, the Huawei executive being held in Vancouver, isn’t in that league, but she’s become a critical figure in the new arms race: attaining superiority in wireless technology and global information flows.
The Trudeau government will decide whether to return her to China or allow her to be extradited to the United States, where she would likely face an explosive trial that would lift the lid on Chinese dirty work on this continent.
That’s a lot of power for a middle power. In this crisis, Canada is more than just a pawn in the game. If the Liberals are of a Machiavellian mind, there are cynical politics to be played here. You want Ms. Meng extradited, Mr. President? What do we get in return?
The U.S. knows the hell it has thrown Canada-China relations into as a result of Canadian authorities having taken Ms. Meng into custody at Washington’s behest. Where, it might be asked, is the compensation?
There are, the Canadian side might mention with a nudge-nudge wink-wink, those steel and aluminum tariffs we want lifted, which the U.S. invoked on the irrational premise that Canada was a security threat. No deal on them? Sorry, no deal on extradition. We’ll allow Ms. Meng to return to China; our detained Canadians will be released, normal relations re-established.
In either scenario, Ottawa comes out the better.
But how realistic, given the circumstances, is that kind of realpolitik? The case of Ms. Meng is on a legal track, not a political one. Canada insists it will remain on that track, paying due tribute to the rule of law, just as the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) has done.
Ottawa needs a legitimate reason to not extradite Ms. Meng. Given President Donald Trump’s remarks about possibly using her as leverage to get a better trade deal with China, there appeared to be one. Former Chinese ambassador John McCallum certainly thought so.
In presenting its charges against Ms. Meng and Huawei, however, the DOJ appeared to have a well-documented case that could pass muster at extradition hearings. Huawei, its subsidiaries and Ms. Meng stand accused of stealing trade secrets, obstruction of justice and bank fraud by evading economic sanctions on Iran.
But do many think, given the type of operation Mr. Trump runs, that the issue will remain on a separate legal track, as DOJ officials insisted Monday? Top Chinese officials begin talks in Washington on Wednesday aimed at ending a trade war that has gone on for months between the world’s two biggest economies. The stakes are huge: If Mr. Trump sees an advantage in using the Meng case as a bargaining chip, as he himself suggested, he will do so.
If he does, his extradition request for Ms. Meng could get withdrawn – or, at least, the case could become politicized to a degree that the Trudeau government has grounds to deny extradition. Either one of those outcomes would obviously be helpful for Canada.
Justin Trudeau, like many leaders, has paid the price for Mr. Trump’s reckless breaking of rules and norms. Ironically, he needs this president to do more of the same on this case. If Mr. Trump doesn’t interfere, the extradition will likely go forward, badly damaging Canada-China relations.
The DOJ case against Ms. Meng, it needs be said, vindicated Ottawa’s legalistic approach to the crisis. As Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican ambassador to China, told The Globe and Mail on Monday, the DOJ filing “gives Canada a lot of credibility. They were not just being used by the United States to pressure China, but acting in accordance with a serious criminal issue.”
The credibility for Mr. Trudeau is welcome, especially since he lost so much of it by way of the follies around Mr. McCallum and his firing. But it won’t help relations with China. In the Meng crisis, what Canada needs, strangely, is for Trump to be Trump. It’s the only way to get out of this entanglement unscathed.