Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to meet U.S. President Donald Trump on June 20 at the White House to seek his help pressing China to release two detained Canadians, and to co-ordinate the ratification of the new continental free-trade deal.
Mr. Trudeau, who also hopes to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 summit in Japan at the end of this month, wants to co-ordinate with Mr. Trump on the issues to be raised at the meeting of major industrialized economies.
A top priority for the planned meeting is enlisting Mr. Trump’s help pressing Mr. Xi to let entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig walk free, a senior government source said. Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig have been held by China since December on espionage-related charges, kept in solitary confinement and subjected to daily interrogations. Their detentions are widely seen as retaliation for Canadian authorities serving a U.S. arrest warrant on the chief financial officer of technology company Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.
The Canadian official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the trip, said the White House meeting grew out of the goodwill generated by a deal last month to end U.S. tariffs against Canadian steel and aluminum.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland travelled to the U.S. capital Wednesday to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and members of Congress.
Mr. Pompeo’s office said the pair discussed Beijing at length. The Trump administration has been pressing Canada to follow its lead and ban Huawei from its rollout of next-generation 5G technology, over fears the firm could use its access to pass intelligence back to Chinese spy agencies.
“They agreed China’s actions are damaging. Both leaders welcome results-oriented engagement with China that addresses Chinese behaviors of concern to both countries and emphasizes the importance of its respect for rule of law, human rights, and fair and reciprocal trade,” State department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
Mr. Trudeau will also use his meeting with Mr. Trump to discuss the implementation of the revamped North American free-trade agreement, which the Americans have dubbed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The pact must be ratified by the U.S. Congress before taking effect and it is unclear whether the Trump administration can cut a deal with opposition Democrats to push the deal through.
The Trudeau government will not have Parliament ratify the deal until the U.S. does, one official said. If necessary, Mr. Trudeau will have Parliament called in to a special session over the summer to make this happen.
Canada could badly use the White House’s help as relations with China continue to unravel. Canada first angered Beijing in December by arresting Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou as she changed planes in Vancouver. Canadian authorities were fulfilling an extradition request from the U.S., which accuses Ms. Meng of violating American sanctions on Iran. Days later, China detained Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor.
In the months that have followed, China has begun banning and restricting the import of significant Canadian commodities, including canola and beef, causing financial pain to Canadian farmers.
Mr. Trudeau has faced repeated calls from opposition Conservatives to speak directly with Mr. Xi. The Prime Minister said last week that he will do exactly that at the G20 meeting.
“We are going to highlight the processes and the engagement that Canada has with the world and the way China should engage with the world needs to remain, following the rules, principles and values that we’ve all agreed to,” Mr. Trudeau said while speaking to reporters in France after Second World War D-Day commemorations.
Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques says relations are now at their worst since Canada established diplomatic relations with Communist China in 1970. He predicted the Chinese will not let a meeting occur between Mr. Xi and Mr. Trudeau. He said it’s his understanding Canada filed a request to speak with Mr. Xi some time ago – and received no response.
“[Mr. Trudeau] has to try obviously [but] know a request has been sent into the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting a meeting with Xi Jinping and there has been no answer,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said. “I think the Chinese entourage of Mr. Xi will do its utmost to ensure there is no encounter with Mr. Trudeau in the corridors of the G20."
Former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney said a meeting with Mr. Xi poses risks as well as opportunities.
“A ‘no’ from Xi is effectively the final word in the Chinese system, the guiding advice for the entire bureaucracy,” Mr. Mulroney said in an interview.
Mr. Mulroney said it’s possible that the Chinese leader will agree to a meeting at the G20 because he might believe the Prime Minister can be manoeuvred to shut down the Meng extradition process.
“As long as the Chinese believe that they can intimidate us, they will pursue that path,” he said. “At this stage, the best approach for the PM would be to make it completely clear that Canada will not bend, and that the continued detention of our citizens will continue to discredit China.”
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