Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump discuss China’s ‘unlawful’ detention of two Canadians, agree to seek their release

  • Canada’s Prime Minister and the US President also discussed the US extradition bid for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested in Vancouver last month
  • Trump and Trudeau ‘reaffirmed the importance of respecting judicial independence and the rule of law’
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2019, 6:22am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2019, 10:42am

The leaders of Canada and the United States have agreed to continue pressing Beijing to free two Canadian citizens who were detained after the arrest of a senior Chinese executive in Vancouver, Ottawa said.

Canada wants the immediate release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were picked up after Canadian authorities arrested Huawei Technologies Co Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on December 1 at the request of the United States.

China denounced the move, and the affair is threatening to increase global tensions at a time when Washington and Beijing are already locked in a trade war.

Canada says China has detained 13 of its citizens since Huawei arrest

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to US President Donald Trump on Monday and thanked him for “the strong statements of support by the United States” in response to the detentions of the two men, Trudeau’s office said in a statement.

“The two leaders agreed to continue to seek their release,” the statement said.

In a separate statement, the White House said that Trump and Trudeau “discussed the unlawful detention of two Canadian citizens in China.”

The White House hasn’t spoken publicly about the detained Canadians until now. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a State Department spokesman previously called for their release.

Although Canada says China has made no specific link between the detentions and Meng’s arrest, experts and former diplomats say they have no doubt Beijing is using the cases of Kovrig and Spavor to pressure Ottawa.

Beijing insists the charges against Meng be dropped, but Canada says it cannot interfere with the judicial process.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland reacted unhappily last month after Trump suggested he could waive the request to have Meng sent to the United States in return for progress on a bilateral trade deal with China. She said the extradition process should not be politicised.

Trudeau’s office said the two leaders had discussed the US request and “reaffirmed the importance of respecting judicial independence and the rule of law.”

China Daily on Monday published a commentary saying Canada “could lose the trust and cooperation of most developing countries” over the matter.

“By continuing to follow the US, either passively or actively, Canada will eventually harm its national interests,” said the commentary by Li Qingsi, a professor on international studies at Renmin University.

Earlier in the day, a group of legislators from Canada on a visit to China pressed authorities to release Spavor and Kovrig but had little success, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp reported.

“We made it clear that from the standpoint of advancing important bilateral relations between Canada and China, that this represents a major chill,” opposition Conservative MP Michael Cooper told the Globe and Mail in a telephone interview from Shanghai.

“Frankly, it is completely unacceptable that they are more or less denied access to consular services, they have been denied access to a lawyer, the detention conditions in which they are under are completely unacceptable. All of those points were raised,” he said.

Freeland said last month that Canada would embark on a campaign with allies to win the release of the detained Canadians. The US, the UK and the EU issued statements in support.

A show of support from allies is significant for Canada, which has felt relatively isolated in recent months.

In August, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador to the kingdom and withdrew its own ambassador after Canada’s foreign ministry tweeted support for an arrested Saudi activist.

The Saudis also sold Canadian investments and ordered their citizens studying in Canada to leave. No country, including the US, spoke out publicly in support of Canada.

Reuters, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse