Long-time Trump associate Roger Stone is indicted in the Mueller probe. Donald Trump’s State of the Union address is postponed after he is outfoxed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The record-length government shutdown finally concludes. Venezuela erupts. The U.S supports an opposition takeover. Russia doesn’t.
Oh – and there’s a story about the Trudeau government’s ambassador to China. He strayed off the party line in making some controversial remarks about a potentially pending extradition case in Canada involving an executive of a telecommunications giant.
To say this story, amid so many other detonations, hasn’t come across the radar down here would be an understatement.
John McCallum, the ambassador in question, humiliatingly had to roll back his declarations, which lent some credibility to the Chinese position vis-a-vis the American one in respect to the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Ms. Meng was taken into custody in Canada for allegedly covering up violations of sanctions on Iran.
But his apology, oddly, wasn’t prompted by any public pressure from the Trump administration (who, it should be said, should hardly be allowed to complain about mixed messaging from governments).
The Canadian embassy didn’t get one complaint from the Trumpites before the mea culpa materialized. Rather, Mr. McCallum had to withdraw his statements because he had crossed the line into the political sphere from the legal one.
The Chinese, of course, have brutally forced the matter into the political sphere with the detention of two Canadians and the death sentence of another on drug-smuggling charges. And with Mr. Trump, everything is in the political sphere. He’s said he would use the Meng case as a bargaining chip if necessary in trade negotiations with China.
But in contrast to the two megapowers, choir-boy Canada won’t dirty its hands. It will keep the matter – Mr. McCallum be damned – entirely in the legal realm. Yes, he went off message. Yes, he was on shaky ground commenting on a matter possibly going before the courts. But it was good that he let the Chinese know – and did so publicly – that Washington wouldn’t automatically get its way in Canada.
Though it lasted only a flash, it was one of the few instances of proactivity from the Canadian government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we learned this week, told Mr. Trump that if the Meng case is used as a negotiating chip, the U.S. needs to make sure the two innocent Canadians are released as a result of the bargaining. It’s a message that should be repeated.
What type of response did Mr. Trudeau get? “Friendly,” said Canada’s Washington envoy, David MacNaughton. But Ottawa did not go public with it when it happened and has no plans to escalate any kind of political pressure on Mr. Trump. “I have kept the U.S. fully informed of our position from when she was first detained,” Mr. MacNaughton said Friday. “That position hasn’t changed.”
Playing by the book and trying to abide by sound principles were strategies used by Ottawa in the trade negotiations. Unlike the Americans, our negotiators didn’t put forward unreasonable demands that they could use as bargaining chips. It appeared the Canadian side was on the defensive most of the way. But the strategy didn’t work out too badly. Ultimately, Mr. Trump backed down on a couple of his demands and an agreement was reached.
In a similar way, Canada could find its way out of the China imbroglio. Mr. Trump is facing so many challenges that, as on a new North American free-trade agreement, calmer heads might persuade him to compromise on trade with China.
In respect to Ms. Meng, several scenarios are possible. The U.S. might conveniently miss next week’s deadline for the extradition filing, or the Americans might file such a weak case that it will easily be dismissed in a Canadian hearing. They don’t appear to have a strong case in the first place, and the Chinese are masters of inscrutability in their business dealings.
Another is that Mr. Trump, using Ms. Meng as leverage, will get a trade deal with Beijing. The Canadians will be released in the process of it. Mr. McCallum will slip the villain tag.