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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, seen here at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing on Nov. 28, 2019, repeated China’s call for the release of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.The Associated Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “doomed to fail” if he hopes to secure the release of two arrested Canadians before Washington and Beijing complete a trade deal, China has warned.

Linking a deal to ease escalating tariffs between the world’s two largest economies with other issues is “totally in vain,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Friday.

He then employed a Chinese idiom describing an action that is dangerous or perhaps desperate: “Those who pull other people’s chestnuts out of the fire will only end up burning themselves.”

Canada, he said, must be “too heartbroken for tears” if it is taking such a step.

The use of idioms added new colour to China’s months of hectoring Ottawa but made it difficult to parse Mr. Geng’s message. The “meaning is self-evident,” he said, rejecting suggestions that China was threatening Canada or calling Ottawa desperate – though he seemed to say the latter was obvious for anyone to see.

“Whoever is most desperate will know that best,” he said.

He then repeated China’s call for the release of Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei executive whose arrest in Vancouver last December has created friction between Ottawa and Beijing. That same month, Chinese authorities detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in what is widely seen as a retaliatory action.

Critics have accused China of “hostage diplomacy” for arresting the two men, while China has fumed against what it calls the “political” case against Ms. Meng in the United States, where prosecutors have sought her extradition, alleging she committed fraud related to the violation of sanctions against Iran. The allegation, backed by a PowerPoint presentation given by Ms. Meng, has not been proven in court. Huawei has denied any wrongdoing.

In an interview with French-language television network TVA that aired Thursday, Mr. Trudeau called for the situation to be resolved before the completion of any trade deal between China and the U.S.

“We’ve said that the United States should not sign a final and complete agreement with China that does not settle the question of Meng Wanzhou and the two Canadians," he said.

His comments received the support of some legislators in the U.S., including Richard Neal, the Democratic chairman of the U.S. House committee that oversees trade.

In China, however, the Prime Minister was met with derision.

“Frankly speaking, what Trudeau is saying is nonsense,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, who is also an adviser to the State Council of China, the country’s cabinet.

“Everyone knows that a trade deal will benefit both the U.S. and China,” he said, “and Trump will undoubtedly prioritize benefits for his country.”

Shen Dingli, a Fudan University professor and one of China’s top scholars in international relations, said “Trudeau’s words won’t make any difference.

“What matters most to Trump is winning re-election. How can Trudeau’s request matter to him? Trump must take action, especially on trade matters, before next November. If he wants to make gains with voters, he knows what his priority needs to be.”

Mr. Geng made a similar argument. “The conclusion of the phase one deal is in the interest of both the U.S. and China, as comports with the aspirations of the rest of the world.“

With reporting by Alexandra Li

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