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Senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official Lu Kang, seen here on Sept. 3, 2020, said the U.S. asked ‘dozens’ of countries to arrest Meng Wanzhou.

Gilles Sabrie/The Globe and Mail

The United States asked “dozens” of countries to detain Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou as she travelled through Asia and Europe in the fall of 2018, the Chinese government says.

But only Canada agreed to arrest Ms. Meng, the daughter of the tech giant’s founder, senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official Lu Kang told The Globe and Mail Thursday. Mr. Lu offered no evidence for his assertion.

He said many of the countries who received requests from the U.S. were “American allies” who have signed extradition treaties with Washington, some of them visited by Ms. Meng in the weeks before her Dec. 1, 2018, arrest at the Vancouver airport. The U.S. issued a warrant for Ms. Meng’s arrest on Aug. 22, 2018.

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Between September and November, she travelled to France, Britain, Ireland, Poland, Singapore, Japan and Belgium. The U.S. asked “dozens of other governments to detain Meng Wanzhou, but none of them followed this ridiculous idea, until Mme. Meng entered Canada,” Mr. Lu said. Canada was “the only one that helped the U.S. government in this kind of dirty game,” said Mr. Lu, a former government spokesman who is now director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s department of North American and Oceanian affairs.

Huawei spokesman Joe Kelly said the company had no knowledge of extradition requests sent elsewhere. Britain does not comment on the existence of such demands. The U.S. and other countries where Ms. Meng travelled did not respond to requests for comment.

Canada’s extradition treaty with the U.S. dates back to 1971 and obligates Canadian authorities to co-operate with the U.S. in most instances.

Mr. Lu spoke in a rare wide-ranging interview, in which he defended China’s foreign policy, praised the economic ties built up over 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, denied that Beijing is practising hostage diplomacy, argued that other countries are better to follow China over the U.S. – and accused the Canadian government of misleading the public over what has taken place in nearly two years of friction.

That includes the results of a meeting last week between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne. The two ministers agreed to have “consular officials on both sides to talk to see what can be done,” Mr. Champagne said, after he repeated Canadian demands that diplomats be allowed to see Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two men China arrested in what has been widely seen as reprisal for the arrest of Ms. Meng. Neither man has been granted consular access since January, while the Huawei executive lives at her multimillion-dollar home in Vancouver on bail.

But Mr. Lu said no agreement was struck to restart visits. “I don’t know why the Canadian government did not share with the public, or share with the media, the response from the Chinese side,” he said. Diplomats can’t see the men because “extraordinary and exceptional measures” have been taken at Chinese detention facilities in the midst of the pandemic. “That’s not just targeted against the two Michaels,” he said.

Australian diplomats, however, have been allowed to make a video call with one of their recently detained citizens, Cheng Lei, who worked as a state television anchor. Diplomats believe Ms. Cheng is being held at the same facility in Beijing as Mr. Kovrig. Mr. Lu said China did allow Mr. Kovrig a single brief phone call with his ill father.

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The impasse over visits with the two men is perhaps the most tangible indication of a relationship between Canada and the world’s second-largest economy that has largely stalled. Although everyday trade continues and Canada has grown more visible on the streets of some cities – Tim Hortons is expanding the number of Maple Leaf-festooned outlets in China – the ill-feeling engendered by the arrests of Ms. Meng, Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor has largely placed a halt to the normal priorities of diplomacy.

The Chinese government has “never turned our back on the Canadian people,” Mr. Lu said. But the Canadian government has “ruined the necessary atmosphere needed for further co-operation,” he said, calling Ms. Meng’s arrest a “very, very serious obstacle.” U.S. prosecutors accuse her of committing fraud related to violation of sanctions against Iran. The Chinese government says she is innocent, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said it is for Canadian courts to decide on her extradition.

That makes the obstacle between the two countries unlikely to be removed soon, said Phil Calvert, a former diplomat who has served in Beijing and is now a senior fellow with the China Institute of the University of Alberta.

“They want to blame us. They want to say it’s Meng. And we’re saying it’s the two Michaels,” he said. And even if those prisoners were released, a prospect that appears unlikely in the near-term, Canadian public sentiment toward China has soured so badly, Mr. Calvert said, that the “idea that we’re somehow going to get back to the way things were is just wrongheaded and unrealistic.”

The relationship between Canada and China has grown “transactional,” he said, with any ambition for grand initiatives undermined by mutual recriminations.

As for any Canadian businesses made skittish by China’s willingness to block imports in the midst of a political dispute, Mr. Lu suggested seeking redress at international bodies. “Just go to the [World Trade Organization],” he said, to find out whether Chinese actions are “against any WTO obligations or commitments.”

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He dismissed a question about China’s use of hostage diplomacy. Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were detained shortly after the arrest of Ms. Meng, both men taken on the same day in two different cities. That was nothing more than coincidence, Mr. Lu said. In “today’s world, that happens. This is what I can tell you,” he said, adding: “if you try to connect everything together, you can always find something.”

In 2014, Chinese authorities arrested two other Canadians, Kevin and Julia Garratt, in the midst of a different extradition process in Canada against a Chinese citizen. Since last year, two Australian citizens have also been detained in China as frictions increased between those two countries.

Is China’s aim to make other countries fear it?

“That’s never our policy,” Mr. Lu said. He called disputes between countries routine, saying “Chinese diplomacy has been very successful in creating an atmosphere that is conducive not only to the domestic development at home, but China’s co-operation with the vast majority of the international community.”

Even so, when Beijing feels a threat to what it sees as core interests, no one should “just expect that China will be silent,” he said. But is China, which has sentenced to death four Canadians on drug charges since 2019, prepared to execute a Canadian citizen for political reasons? “It’s not a political issue,” he said, calling drugs a “very severe problem in China.”

He made no pledge that Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor would be set free if Ms. Meng is released. “From the very beginning, we told the Canadian public very clearly those are two issues totally different by nature,” he said.

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In Canada, Mr. Trudeau has criticized China for a “political decision” to use the random arrest of Canadian citizens to gain leverage. Has the Canadian government been lying about China’s actions? “It’s what you said,” Mr. Lu responded.

Canadian public opinion concerning China has plummeted over the past two years, and polling shows residents of other key Chinese trading partners – Germany, France and the U.S. among them – hold similarly dim views toward Beijing. Mr. Lu countered by saying that in polls of people’s views on their own governments, the Communist Party commands higher regard than ruling parties elsewhere.

He described China as a country that “has always been prepared to listen to the outside world and to improve,” a description at odds with critics who have called Beijing an intransigent power that has flouted international norms to its own advantage.

Mr. Lu, however, predicted failure for those who seek a common front against China’s ambitions. Canada, the U.S., Australia, Japan and others have in recent months called for strengthened alliances among liberal democracies and even for an expansion in intelligence-sharing arrangements.

Beijing has no fondness for attempts “to try to isolate China,” Mr. Lu said, faulting the U.S. for leading such efforts. But “I don’t believe they will get the support of the vast majority of the international community. They will not even get support among U.S. allies.”

He decried the possibility of the world cleaving into a new Cold War, which would stand only to “tear countries apart from each other,” he said. Even so, any country forced to choose between following Washington and following Beijing should find it easy, he said, casting China as a more faithful adherent of the guiding precepts at the United Nations.

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Other countries, meanwhile, should draw a lesson from the breakdown in relations between Canada and China, Mr. Lu said: “Don’t help the wrong person doing the wrong thing. That’s the lesson.”

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