As it faced Beijing’s fury over the arrest of a Huawei technology executive under a U.S. extradition request, Canada has at times seemed neglected by its neighbour to the south.
One expert suggested in February this country had been left “hanging high and dry.”
Canada is still grappling with China on multiple fronts because of the Huawei case, but this week it picked up some rare moral support from American lawmakers.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution praising Canada for apprehending Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou last December, and blasting China for what appear to be harsh retaliatory measures.
President Donald Trump has said relatively little about the predicament Canada landed in when it arrested Meng under the nations’ longstanding extradition treaty.
But the resolution, drafted by Texas Republican Michael McCaul, commends this country for “upholding the rule of law and complying with its international legal obligations.”
The motion also calls on China to free imprisoned Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and give due process to Robert Schellenberg, a Canadian whose jail sentence for drug trafficking was abruptly escalated to death after Meng’s detention.
Canada acted “despite China’s hostility and their unjust detention of Canadian citizens,” said a statement from McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House foreign affairs committee. “I thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in coming together to stand against authoritarian China.”
The resolution was a little-noticed part of a package of bills passed by the House in unanimous voice votes on Tuesday, mostly to address the protests in Hong Kong and China’s tightening grip on the city. It echoed an earlier motion in the Senate that was also largely overlooked.
The gestures offer moral support, but likely not much else, said Greg Anderson, a University of Alberta political science professor.
“It’s a nice softball to Canada saying ‘Hey, we’re supporting you,’ ” he said Friday. “(But) there’s no action in it that can force the White House to do anything in particular. There are no sanctions connected to this … What is it really doing substantively to free the two Canadians? Not a lot, unfortunately.”
The Chinese embassy in Ottawa could not be reached for comment on the House’s Canada resolution.
Spavor and Kovrig were arrested last December on ill-defined espionage charges and have been held virtually incommunicado since, an apparent reaction to the Huawei case. Meanwhile, billions of dollars of Canadian agricultural products have been blocked by China on what many experts believe are contrived health grounds.
Trump did at one point promise to raise the issue of Kovrig and Spavor with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has strongly condemned Beijing’s actions against Canada. But publicly, at least, there has been little other recognition from the administration of Canada’s conundrum.
The president may even have undermined Ottawa’s contention that the two countries were just following the law when he suggested Meng could be released as part of a trade deal with China.
“Normally, Canada can count on the United States to back them up on such an issue,” Laura Dawson, a former staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa and head of the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute, told Voice of America at the time. Now it was leaving Canada “hanging high and dry.”
The preamble to the resolution noted that Meng was given access to Chinese diplomats and her choice of lawyer, then released on bail. By contrast, the motion says, the two Michaels “have faced harsh conditions … that include limited consular access, no access to a lawyer, being unable to turn off the lights at night and lengthy interrogations.”
By Tom Blackwell