Canada is getting some moral support from the U.S. Congress in its dispute with China that began when Ottawa arrested one of the top executives of flagship Chinese tech firm Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.
Relations between Canada and China have deteriorated significantly since Canadian officials detained Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou last December on an extradition request from the United States. The Americans allege she helped the company violate U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.
This week, a bipartisan pair of U.S. congressmen introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives that criticizes China’s conduct in this affair and calls on Beijing to release two Canadians it seized in the days that followed Ms. Meng’s arrest at Vancouver International Airport. The resolution calls China’s detention of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor “apparent retaliation” for Ms. Meng’s arrest.
The two men remain jailed, cut off from family and lawyers, and have been charged with espionage. Chinese authorities have confiscated Mr. Kovrig’s reading glasses. Ms. Meng’s father, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, suggested in a recent interview with The Globe and Mail that if his daughter was freed, Huawei might then advocate for the Canadians’ release.
In contrast to the conditions the Canadians face, Ms. Meng is free on $10-million bail and living in a multimillion-dollar home in Vancouver as she awaits an extradition hearing in January.
Former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, said Thursday he hopes the U.S. resolution helps, “but it would be more helpful if it listed specific measures that the U.S. government will take if they [Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor] are not freed up.”
The sponsors of the resolution are New York’s Eliot Engel, Democratic chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican member of the same committee, who represents a district in Texas.
“Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig have faced harsh conditions while in detention that include limited consular access,” the resolution says. “No access to a lawyer, being unable to turn off the lights at night, and lengthy interrogations, including in the case of Mr. Kovrig, about his official activities during his previous tenure as an accredited diplomat in the People’s Republic of China, potentially in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
The resolution commends Canada “for upholding the rule of law and complying with its international legal obligations” under the U.S.-Canada extradition treaty and for granting Ms. Meng consular access to her government and due process under Canadian law.
It expresses concern over the “apparent arbitrary detention and abusive treatment" of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor and "joins the government of Canada in calling for the immediate release of the two men. It also calls for “due process” for Canadian Robert Schellenberg. He had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for drug smuggling, but after Ms. Meng’s arrest, a Chinese court ruled that he should face the death penalty.
Roland Paris, a University of Ottawa professor and former foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said that, if the resolution passes, the House of Representatives will join the U.S. Senate and White House “in calling for the release of the two Michaels.”
Prof. Paris said the resolution keeps up international pressure on China to release the two Canadians, and also keeps this issue alive in the minds of U.S. policy-makers.
“A few months ago, it wasn’t clear that the United States would advocate for our detainees, but both the White House and Congress now seem to be engaged. Frankly, it’s the right thing for them to do, considering that Canada is paying the price for complying with the terms of our bilateral extradition treaty.”
A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland would not say whether Canada asked Mr. Engel and Mr. McCaul to introduce this resolution.
However, Mr. Trudeau met both congressmen in June during his most recent visit to Washington.
Adam Austen, press secretary for Ms. Freeland, said Canada is grateful to the the U.S. House of Representatives “for its support and efforts to pass a resolution echoing our call for the release of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig and recognizing Canada’s respect for the rule of law.”
He said Canada is also grateful to the other countries, blocs and alliances that expressed their support including: Australia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the Group of Seven and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.