In the end, it didn’t really matter which way a British Columbia judge ruled on Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s bid to have her extradition case dismissed.
Yes, it mattered to two Canadians who since late 2018 have been held, in extremely hard conditions, as hostages of the government of the People’s Republic of China, with Ms. Meng’s release their presumed ransom. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor will for now remain jailed; Beijing may choose to keep them there for months, or years, or – we dread to think it – forever.
Yes, the ruling mattered to Ms. Meng. She aimed to be on a plane back to China by now; instead, she must stay in Canada as her case continues. Her conditions of detention could not be more different from those of the two Michaels: She is living comfortably in one of her two Vancouver homes.
And yes, it matters to Canadian business. Exporters of such things as canola, soybeans, pork and beef have experienced what it’s like to be economic hostages, when in the wake of Ms. Meng’s arrest they found themselves to various degrees blocked from the Chinese market.
And the decision surely mattered to the career of whoever advised Ms. Meng to stage a pre-emptive celebratory photo shoot on the steps of the Vancouver courthouse last Saturday, in anticipation of victory.
But when it comes to the big picture, of Canada’s relationship with China and Canada’s challenge of dealing with the nature of the regime that runs China, nothing has changed.
The problem of how to manage a relationship with an aggressive superpower remains. That would be so even if Ms. Meng had never been arrested in pursuit of a U.S. extradition request. It will be so whether she is eventually sent to the United States to face trial.
The damage is already done. Or rather, Canada’s veil of China illusions has already been ripped off. Illusions, like disposable medical masks, cannot be reapplied.
If your neighbour punches you in the face and threatens to do it again unless he gets his way, it’s impossible to act like it never happened and invite him over for a family barbecue next weekend. That’s especially true when you know he’s got a long and growing rap sheet and a history of retaliating against others in the neighbourhood who didn’t heel to his wishes.
Canada, and the Trudeau government, have had to spend the past couple of years coming to terms with this reality, which is that the government of the world’s second superpower does not believe in democracy, does not believe in the rule of law, is explicitly opposed to ideas of universal human rights, and is as such capable of being a threat to the international system Canada helped to build. Canada doesn’t need to seek out enemies, but the hard men who run the People’s Republic are not our pals.
And just as Wednesday’s court ruling changes nothing for Canada, so it goes for China. If Ms. Meng were now on a plane jetting across the Pacific, the lesson learned in Beijing would be: Pressure works. The lesson to be drawn from the fact that Canada has not done as asked may be: Apply more pressure. The spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry said earlier this week that Ms. Meng had to be released in order to “avoid any continuous harm to China-Canada relations.”
As a result of the ruling, perhaps exports of a major Canadian agricultural product will be interrupted. Or perhaps imports of medical personal protective equipment will become more difficult. Or maybe nothing will happen. That is entirely up to Beijing.
Last year, we suggested four principles Canada must keep in mind when dealing with China. The issue is of course not China itself, but the regime that runs the country. However, given that the regime isn’t changing, we believe these principles still hold and will for some time.
- China is more of a threat than opportunity.
- China is not our enemy, but neither is it our friend.
- To counterbalance China, we need allies.
- We must continue to trade with China while avoiding becoming dependent on it.
Regardless of how the Meng case is resolved, our China challenge will remain. Her situation, and that of the Michaels, are symptoms with a deeper cause. Canada’s long-term problem is bigger than one extradition request for one telecom executive.