Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government’s efforts to rally allies to urge China to release two detained Canadians are working, despite Beijing’s assertion that Canada is “naive” to think the United States will help resolve the problem.
Speaking to reporters in Montreal on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau said that U.S. President Donald Trump raised the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, last weekend. He said Canada’s allies are worried about China’s behaviour toward Canada and efforts to express those concerns with the Chinese leadership have been effective.
“One of the things that we’ve seen is that our approach of highlighting around the world the concerns that people have with the arbitrary detentions of two Canadians by China is working,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have been in detention for seven months. They have been held in solitary confinement, subjected to daily interrogations and had the lights left on 24 hours a day. They have been prevented from seeing family or lawyers but have been given monthly, 30-minute consular meetings. Sources told The Globe and Mail this week that Chinese authorities confiscated Mr. Kovrig’s reading glasses.
The U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Kelly Craft, also said Thursday that Mr. Trump discussed the case of the two detained Canadians with China’s top leader at the summit.
“The topic was discussed in Osaka,” Ms. Craft said when contacted by The Globe.
Ms. Craft, whom the President has nominated as United Nations ambassador, would not discuss the details of the conversation about the two Canadians that took place during an 80-minute meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi on Saturday.
In Mr. Trudeau’s remarks Thursday, he said he could “confirm now that Mr. Trump did speak to his Chinese counterpart about the detainees,” going further than he did on Tuesday, when he said he was “confident” the President raised the matter with Mr. Xi.
“Countries are concerned, not just for Canadians, but for the challenges this poses to the rule of the law and the international rules-based order,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The Prime Minister’s comments come one day after the Chinese Foreign Ministry posted a transcript online quoting spokesperson Geng Shuang warning Canada against "being too naive” in thinking Mr. Trump did any favours by raising the Canadian detainees with Mr. Xi.
“First, it shouldn’t be so naive as to believe that asking its so-called ally to pressure China will work,” Mr. Geng said on Wednesday.
“Second, it shouldn’t be so naive as to believe that its so-called ally will earnestly pursue a Canadian agenda. They will only pay a lip service, at best. The matter is, after all, between China and Canada.”
Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole said there’s no evidence the Trudeau government’s outreach campaign has worked.
“They’ve been saying this for months and there’s zero proof that it’s working. In fact, the situation gets worse by the week,” Mr. O’Toole said in an interview.
Mr. Trump is currently locked in a trade war with China. But he has generally focused more on economic issues than on national security or human rights matters.
Canada was drawn into the dispute between China and the United States when it arrested Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on an extradition request from the Americans in December. Ms. Meng faces allegations of fraud relating to U.S. sanctions against Iran.
In apparent retaliation, China detained Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor days after Ms. Meng’s arrest; the men were eventually charged with stealing state secrets. China has also barred or restricted Canadian agricultural imports such as canola, beef and pork products.
Mr. Trudeau said he has had a number of opportunities to raise the consular cases with Mr. Xi, including a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 last weekend. The Prime Minister said Canada will continue to stand up for the detainees, especially as China continues to occupy a growing space in the global economy.
“We continue to engage directly with Chinese leadership. It was a good thing that I had an opportunity to have a number of face-to-face exchanges with President Xi that were constructive as we move forward to resolve these challenges,” Mr. Trudeau said.
At a news conference after the G20, Mr. Trump said he talked about Huawei with Mr. Xi, but did not raise Ms. Meng’s case.
“We didn’t discuss Ms. Meng,” Mr. Trump said. “We did discuss Huawei, but we didn’t discuss her situation.”
Huawei has been fighting U.S. efforts to persuade Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners – Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand – to bar the company from accessing their 5G networks. The U.S., Australia and New Zealand have imposed restrictions on the use of Huawei in 5G networks in their respective countries, but Canada and Britain have not yet made a decision to join in a ban.
With a report from Adrian Morrow