“Analysts are divided over whether Canadian Ambassador John McCallum’s remarks on the Sabrina Meng Wanzhou extradition case were an attempt by Ottawa to defuse tensions with Beijing.”
By Laura Zhou
Published on Yahoo! News, Jan 24, 2019
Analysts are divided over whether Canadian Ambassador John McCallum’s remarks on the Sabrina Meng Wanzhou extradition case were an attempt by Ottawa to defuse tensions with Beijing.
McCallum caused surprise on Wednesday at a press conference with Chinese-language media in Ontario when he said Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, had “quite a strong case” against an extradition request by the US.
The diplomat went on to share his opinion of how Meng could present her defence in the looming extradition hearing.
The US Justice Department has indicated it will proceed before the January 30 deadline with the request to bring Meng from Canada to the US for trial on charges of violating US sanctions and misleading US banks on Huawei’s business activities in Iran.
Political observers in Beijing said McCallum’s comments may have been an attempt by Canada to ease its strained ties with China, although the ambassador could also have been expressing his own opinion.
Zhang Baohui, a political-science professor and director of the Centre for Asian-Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, said McCallum may have been hoping to cool tensions between Canada and China, as well as shape public opinion in China ahead of the US extradition request.
“He may be using these comments to lessen Chinese concerns, thereby pre-empting an escalation of China’s retaliation against Canada once the US formally goes ahead with the extradition request,” Zhang said.
“China-Canada relations are now at their lowest ebb and the ambassador was trying to avoid further deterioration.”
Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said McCallum’s commentary was not convincing as neither the Canadian nor the American judicial systems would permit political involvement in extradition cases.
“There are major differences between [McCallum’s] comments and the official line of the Canadian government, so I personally don’t really think it is the Canadian government trying to pass a message to Beijing through its ambassador,” Shi said.
Pang Zhongying, a Beijing-based international affairs expert, warned that since the extradition process could take months, or even years, unforeseen risks and uncertainties could further complicate bilateral ties.
“Everyone is concerned about the extradition so I think the ambassador was trying to have a communication with the Chinese media by giving some further explanation,” Pang said.
Speaking in Beijing on Thursday, Hua Chunying, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, reiterated that Canada should immediately “correct its mistake” by releasing Meng.
“Canada has made a serious mistake at the very beginning of this case,” Hua said.
“I think everyone with normal judgment could see the nature of this case, and we hope Canada could see the matter clearly and make the correct decision, rather than doing something to pull chestnuts out of the fire.”
US President Donald Trump has previously said that he might intervene in the case if it would help secure a trade deal with China.
Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He is due in Washington next week for a new round of trade talks with his American counterparts to resolve a wide range of trade disputes between the two countries, from forced technology transfers to protection of intellectual property.
McCallum, who became ambassador to China in 2017, admitted that bilateral relations with China were now at “a difficult time” with the arrest of Meng, who has been released on bail and is due in court in Vancouver on February 6.
“Before this happened, relations between Canada and China were going extremely well,” he told the Chinese-language media reporters in the same press conference on Wednesday.
“Just to give you one example, in the month of November alone, we had six ministers and three premiers visiting China. And then, on December 1, Madam Meng was detained in Vancouver.
“After that, there were two Canadians detained, and after that there was one Canadian who had been sentenced to 15 years on drug charges had a retrial and was condemned to death.”
The detentions of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on December 10 sparked a global backlash, with a growing number of countries, including the US, Britain, Germany, France and European Union, expressing support for Ottawa.
China has insisted that the three cases are not related to Meng’s arrest, but has warned Canada of consequences if she is not immediately released.
When asked about McCallum’s remarks on Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stuck to the government’s position of non-interference in judicial matters.
“We will make sure that the rule of law is properly and fully followed,” he said. “That, of course, includes the opportunity for [Meng] to mount a strong defence.”