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Then-prime minister Jean Chrétien and his top adviser Eddie Goldenberg at the Avitat Hangar in Toronto, Ont., on Dec. 3, 1998.

PETER BREGG

A second political figure from the Jean Chrétien era is urging Canada to swap Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou for two Canadians detained in China in a “prisoner exchange."

Eddie Goldenberg, who served as chief of staff to Mr. Chrétien when he was prime minister, is calling on the Canadian government to conduct the trade. He has outlined his proposal in an article published in The Globe and Mail.

Last month, John Manley, who served as deputy prime minister under Mr. Chrétien, also proposed the same solution. Mr. Manley’s career after politics includes a directorship at Telus Communications Inc., which uses equipment from Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in a portion of its wireless network.

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It’s been more than 13 months since China locked up two Canadians in what was widely regarded as retaliation for Ottawa’s arrest of Ms. Meng. Beijing has accused former diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor of spying.

Ms. Meng was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1, 2018, on a U.S. extradition request. U.S. authorities accuse Ms. Meng and other Huawei executives of lying to banks so that they would clear transactions with Iran through the United States despite U.S. sanctions.

The Chinese businesswoman is awaiting an extradition hearing set to begin next Monday. Her case has the potential to drag on for years with appeals.

Mr. Goldenberg argues Beijing sees Ms. Meng as a political prisoner. Canadians must realize this, he says, regardless of whether they agree with the Chinese government.

“Beijing believes Ms. Meng is a hostage that Canada is holding for Mr. Trump. They believe the extradition request is in no way motivated by alleged criminal behaviour, but instead has everything to do with what they see as the U.S. economic cold war against China – and against Huawei in particular,” Mr. Goldenberg writes.

He argues U.S. President Donald Trump’s December, 2018, comments on being open to using the case as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations with China demonstrated the political nature of the Meng extradition request.

“Whether we like it or not, the Canadian argument that the Meng case is merely a matter of the extradition process following its normal process in a criminal matter is not accepted in China. As a result, there is no circumstance under which China will agree to release the hostages unless Ms. Meng comes home.”

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Canada faces two unpalatable options and must pick one, Mr. Goldenberg writes. He argues Canada has already adopted “the stand firm on principle” approach and refused to “give in to Chinese blackmail" but this counted on Canada’s allies, “especially Mr. Trump, persuading the Chinese to release the Canadians.” This option has not worked, he says.

Mr. Goldenberg predicts a get-tough approach would fail as well, one that included, perhaps, withdrawing from the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, banning Chinese athletes from training in Canada for the next Olympics or strengthening ties with Taiwan. “We are simply not in a David and Goliath situation because, in these circumstances, David doesn’t even have a slingshot.”

Instead, he argues, a swap is the best course of action.

“Former prime minister Jean Chrétien once said that when one is painted into a corner, the way out is to just walk on the paint. The Trump administration painted us into a corner, and it is now time for Ottawa to walk on the paint,” Mr. Goldenberg writes.

He argues that Canada should use a provision in this country’s Extradition Act – Section 23 (3) – to end Ms. Meng’s extradition process. This section says Canada’s justice minister “may at any time withdraw the authority to proceed and, if the minister does so, the court shall discharge the person and set aside any order made respecting their judicial interim release or detention."

John E. Smith, who until May, 2018, was director of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is responsible for administering and enforcing sanctions, told The Globe in a recent interview that he doesn’t believe “geopolitics were at play” in the Meng arrest.

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“This had been going on for years … before the Trump administration came to power,” he said. “The prosecutors were clearly working on this matter. They pursued it and they got an indictment. That is not done at the behest of President Trump. That is done by career prosecutors that are pursuing a criminal case.”

Former Canadian diplomat David Mulroney said a prisoner swap would legitimize Beijing’s “hostage diplomacy” tactics and encourage the Chinese Communist Party-run state to take prisoners again in the future.

“Mr. Goldenberg’s argument is disingenuous in the extreme. He suggests that Canada’s adherence to the rule of law should be conditional, made to conform with whatever it will take to persuade China to release our kidnapped Canadians. But once you make the rule of law conditional, you no longer have the rule of law," he said.

“Perhaps most troubling,” Mr. Mulroney added, “is Mr. Goldenberg’s proposal asking Canadians to ‘understand where the Chinese are coming from.' I think we know that already. They are coming from a system that treats the law as whatever the Communist Party says it is, and treats human beings as pawns.”

He also said it’s a mistake to write off the Meng extradition as a Trump whim, saying that seems an effort “to distract us from the serious allegations at stake in the extradition hearing, allegations that are as much about Ms. Meng as they are about her company, and that long predate the Trump administration.”

Mr. Mulroney said Mr. Goldenberg’s advice "sounds a lot like what once-independent countries must tell themselves before they throw in the towel and become vassal states. " Canada, he said, is better than that.

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