China’s Ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu is denying that his country is engaged in “coercive diplomacy” as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested, but says that releasing Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou would “simply” help bilateral relations.
“There is no coercive diplomacy on the Chinese side,” Cong said Thursday, responding to a comment Trudeau made earlier this week.
"We will remain absolutely committed to working with our allies to ensure that China's approach of coercive diplomacy, its arbitrary detention of two Canadian citizens, alongside other citizens of other countries around the world, is not viewed as a successful tactic by them," Trudeau said on Tuesday.
During a press conference reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Canada, Cong continuously denied that the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China was at all related to Canada’s arrest of Meng.
Canada has called the two Michaels’ detention—which came just days following Meng’s arrest— “arbitrary” but from China’s perspective the arbitrary detention was that of Meng.
Cong said the two cases are “not related,” and urged Canada to “make the right decision” quickly and it would bring Canada-China relations back on good footing.
Cong told reporters that over the last 50 years Canada and China have made “great progress” but that right now the two countries are experiencing “severe difficulties.”
The tensions between the two countries have been continuously expressed in the nearly two years it’s now been since Meng was put into custody. She remains on house arrest in Vancouver, where she is waiting for her case to proceed through the court system.
The ambassador said Thursday that the U.S. has acted “like a troublemaker,” and Canada “served as an accomplice” in the arrest of Meng. Questions around whether Canada was right to have acted on the December 2018 U.S. extradition request have been raised since it happened.
Last week, in an interview on CTV’s Question Period, former White House national security adviser John Bolton said it was “true” that U.S. President Donald Trump viewed Canada as a political pawn in trade dealings with China.
Canadian officials have continually justified the decision as one based in an obligation to uphold the rule of law and bilateral agreements.
Though, Canada has stated that China has not obeyed the same obligations of upholding conventions that include allowing regular consular access to Canadians detained in China.
Asked why Kovrig and Spavor were not granted any consular visits or access until this past weekend when Dominic Barton, Canada's ambassador to China was allowed to hold virtual visits with both men, Cong referenced the fact that they have been accused of conducing acts endangering Chinese national security, and cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for their access to the outside world being cut off even further than it was already.
The pandemic is a justification Canadian politicians don’t buy, but nevertheless Cong restated that “the only reason that the consular access had been suspended for a while was because of the raging COVID-19.”
“We are doing what we can within our legal system to ensure their lawful rights. So, we have been honouring the Vienna Convention, and the relevant bilateral agreements between China and Canada,” Cong said.
He was unable to provide any additional details or evidence to substantiate China’s charges against the two men, but said the legal process would unfold in due course.
Reflecting on the conditions that the two Michaels have now been in for more than 650 days, Jon Dunbar—a friend of Spavor—said that if anyone could survive in detention, it’s his friend.
“I've been willing to bet he's getting pretty good at speaking Chinese, and probably any Chinese guards that he interacts with like him. He's just that kind of guy,” Dunbar said in an interview with CTV News.
He has been sending his friend books, which he is hopeful have actually gotten into his hands.
Friends with Spavor since 2006, Dunbar said Spavor has requested “escapist” fiction books and books so he could practice his Korean language skills.
“I can't imagine what that does to your, you know, your outlook on life and your personality to be in that condition for almost two years,” he said.
Former Canadian ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques agrees with Trudeau that what China is engaging in, is coercive diplomacy and is putting “all kinds of pressure” on Canada to agree to their request of Meng’s release.
He said the only short-term hope for a change is if there is a change in the U.S. presidency after Nov. 3 and Joe Biden would take a different approach in dealing with China, potentially abandoning the case against Meng, though the likelihood of that is uncertain.
“Otherwise, we have to assume that the extradition process of businessman will drag on for many years. And that means that at some point the Chinese will decide to start the trial of our Canadians… Unless there is a miracle—and I don’t know what it could be at this stage—I think we have to brace ourselves for years of difficult relations and for them to be held in difficult conditions, unfortunately for many years.”
With files from CTV News’ Ottawa Bureau Chief Joyce Napier and The Canadian Press
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