With Justin Trudeau’s decision to fire Ambassador John McCallum, Canada’s relations with China have reached rock bottom. Also, we look like fools.
Every national capital must be wondering what on earth is going on in Ottawa, as one bungle replaces another in the wake of the decision to detain Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou for extradition at the request of the United States. Worse, the two Canadians who have been unfairly imprisoned and a third who faces execution in retaliation are even more at risk. No Canadian government has made a such a mess of foreign policy since John Diefenbaker and the Bomarc missile crisis. And if you’ve never heard of the Bomarc missile crisis, that’s because it happened before most people were born.
Up until this week, the Liberals could at least argue they were making the best of a bad hand. Critics of the Canadian government’s decision to detain Ms. Meng underestimate how the Trump administration would have reacted had this country failed to honour the extradition request.
The Prime Minister and his advisers probably had no idea that Beijing would react with such unbridled rage. But Canada’s decision was defensible: The government was honouring a treaty commitment, Ms. Meng’s case was before the courts, the retaliatory detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, and the capricious meting out of a death sentence to Robert Schellenberg for drug dealing, should alarm the world.
But then Mr. McCallum made a hash of things by telling Chinese-Canadian media that Ms. Meng had a strong case and, fingers crossed, the Americans and Chinese might work out a deal to free her and the two Michaels. And then, fresh from apologizing for seeming to side with the Chinese, he made things worse by telling a StarMetro Vancouver reporter on Friday that “from Canada’s point of view, if (the U.S.) drops the extradition request, that would be great for Canada.”
Within a day he was gone.
There are aspects of foreign policy that this government is good at. The Liberals deserves high praise for bringing home the trade agreements with the European Union and the Trans Pacific Partnership. If the revised NAFTA deal makes it through Congress, that will be a major achievement.
A problem, though, is that Mr. Trudeau has a very high-minded notion of foreign policy as a vehicle for promoting human, labour and women’s rights. Oh, and the environment, too. This Canada-is-back lecturing went down badly with the Americans during the NAFTA talks, it almost wrecked the Trans Pacific Partnership deal, it offended officials in India, and it scuttled Mr. Trudeau’s hopes for a trade agreement with China. As for relations with Russia and Saudi Arabia, let’s not even go there.
The Trudeau government had frittered away much of its capital well before Ms. Meng was detained. Now, with Mr. McCallum’s ouster, this country’s foreign policy is revealed to all the world as the work of amateurs.
Here’s the worst of it: Mr. McCallum didn’t just misspeak, he spilled the beans. He almost certainly channelled the thinking of people inside the Prime Minister’s Office. Everyone now knows that the Canadian government thinks there are good legal reasons why Ms. Meng, should not be extradited. Everyone now knows that Canada resents the United States government for making the extradition request in the first place, and heartily wishes Washington would withdraw that request.
Maybe Canada was dealt a bad hand. But everyone now knows exactly what’s in that hand. In cards, at this point you fold. Unfortunately that’s not an option for governments.
So what next? First, Ottawa needs to appoint a professional diplomat to the post of Ambassador to China. No more superannuated cabinet ministers, please.
Second, if the Canadian government really does think that the American case is weak and extradition unlikely, then Ottawa should ask Washington to withdraw the request. This would help lower tensions with China for both the U.S. and Canada. The government could then also quietly ask for the return of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, and for the death sentence of Mr. Schellenberg to be commuted to life in prison.
Finally, the government might just as well announce that it is prohibiting Huawei technology from being used in Canada’s 5G mobile network because of security concerns. The decision will infuriate the Chinese, but at this point, how could things possibly get worse?