U.S. President Donald Trump pressed his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on the cases of two Canadians detained by China in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a Chinese telecom executive on an American arrest warrant, Canadian sources say.
Senior Canadian officials said Wednesday that the Trump administration had confirmed to the Trudeau government that Mr. Trump raised the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor when he met with Mr. Xi last Saturday at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan. Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi met for 80 minutes.
One official said the Americans told the Canadian government Mr. Trump raised the issue “forcefully." A second official said it wasn’t entirely clear how Mr. Trump framed the issue or whether he set out any consequences for Mr. Xi should he fail to release the Canadians. The sources were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the issue.
The Prime Minister’s Office would not provide an on-the-record statement about the meeting, instead pointing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments Tuesday, when he said he was “confident” Mr. Trump raised the detained Canadians with Mr. Xi.
The White House refused to comment on the matter.
According to a transcript of a Wednesday news conference that was posted online by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, spokesperson Geng Shuang cautioned Canada against being “naive” in thinking that the United States can help resolve its bilateral tensions with China.
“First, it shouldn’t be so naive as to believe that asking its so-called ally to pressure China will work,” Mr. Geng said.
“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.”
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 the U.S. sanctions against Iran.
At a press 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.”
Asked why Ms. Meng’s case did not come up in Mr. Trump’s conversation with Mr. Xi about the Canadian detainees, Canadian officials did not have any further comment.
Mr. Trudeau has tried to rally allies to press Beijing to free Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor. He also raised the consular cases with Mr. Xi on the sidelines of the G20 meeting.
Last month, Mr. Trump vowed during a White House meeting with Mr. Trudeau that he would press Mr. Xi on the detentions of the Canadians.
“Anything I can do to help Canada, I will be doing,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. “I will, absolutely.”
In apparent retaliation, China detained Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor days after Ms. Meng’s arrest last year; the men were eventually charged with stealing state secrets.
The Canadians have since been held in solitary confinement, subjected to daily interrogations and have 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.
China also subsequently barred or restricted Canadian agricultural imports such as canola, beef and pork products after Ms. Meng’s arrest.
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.
With a report from Robert Fife