Montreal: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the United States not to sign a trade deal with China unless Beijing agrees to release two Canadians detained since last year, prompting a defensive response from Beijing.
Former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor have been held in China’s opaque legal system since they were apprehended on December 10, 2018, accused of espionage.
Their case is widely viewed by Canadians as retribution for the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver just nine days prior. She is wanted in the United States on charges related to Iran sanctions violations.
Obtaining the two men’s release has been a top priority of Trudeau’s government.
When asked if he thought a US-China trade deal could help resolve the situation during an interview with French-language channel TVA, Trudeau responded Thursday: “We hope so.”
“We told them that the United States must not sign a final and complete deal with China that does not solve the problem of Meng Wanzhou and the two Canadians,” he added.
But Beijing said Friday that the “current difficult situation” between Canada and China was entirely Ottawa’s responsibility, and called for the government to release Meng Wanzhou immediately.
“When you pull out chestnuts from the fire at the behest of others, you will only end up hurting yourself,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing, using a Chinese expression referring to doing others’ dirty work.
He did not say if the US had asked China to release the two Canadians, but said Canada should “stop colluding with others” to pressure China.
Trudeau — who has been criticized by the opposition for his handling of the case — said his administration has worked “practically every day to try and make China understand that they must free these two Canadians.”
Meng was released on bail a few days after her arrest. She is living in her Vancouver mansion while waiting for an extradition hearing scheduled to begin January 20.
“Whatever pressure they put on us, arresting two Canadians… won’t change the Court of British Columbia’s decision on extradition,” Trudeau warned, noting that the Canadian judicial system is “independent.