Surely most Canadians rejoiced last night when they learned the Two Michaels were on their way home from their long imprisonment in China.
It’s equally certain that some very well-placed officials in the Canadian government rejoiced to know Meng Wanzhou was gone from Canada, heading home to China almost the instant a judge in Vancouver declared there was no longer a reason to hold her now that the U.S. Government had dropped its extradition request.
We can all agree – at least in principle – that nations great and small really ought not to seize and hold hostages to achieve their diplomatic goals.
Still, let’s keep enough of our critical wits about us to detect the whiff of hypocrisy in what was being said last night about the return of the two Canadians arrested in China and charged with spying days after the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. was snatched by the Mounties during her December 2018 stopover at Vancouver airport and held ever since.
One would almost think from the reporting last night that China was the only country taking hostages in this tangled affair. And nothing had changed today, after the two Michaels were safe at home in Canada, and Meng in China.
Yet there is no doubt that the first hostage taken in this saga was Ms. Meng, and that the purpose of the U.S. bank fraud charges levelled against her was to give then-president Donald Trump leverage in his administration’s effort to extort China into a politically motivated trade deal.
Mr. Trump admitted this himself less than two weeks after Ms. Meng’s arrest when he told the Reuters News Agency on Dec. 11, 2018, he wanted her in U.S. hands because he thought it would help him get a better deal with China.
“If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made, which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene (in the case),” he told the news agency’s reporter.
As for the dubious merits of the U.S. case against her, the principal U.S. knock against Huawei – other than the fact it is a successful high-technology competitor from a country that won’t bow to the Washington Consensus – was that it had supposedly broken American sanctions on Iran, reimposed with dubious legality after Mr. Trump spitefully pulled out of his predecessor Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with that country.
The charges against Ms. Meng were revealed as a pretext not just by Mr. Trump’s admission in 2018 but by the Biden Administration’s deal with her yesterday in which she accepted some of the U.S. accusations, nevertheless entered a plea of not guilty to the charges via a computer link, and everyone agreed everything will magically disappear in four years.
So while Canadian officials self-righteously pleaded that the rule of law and our extradition treaty with the United States gave us no choice but to hold Ms. Meng – for almost three long years, as it would turn out – from the Chinese perspective we were clearly acting as criminal confederates in the Trump Administration’s hostage taking.
You can argue, with some justice, that the Chinese should have been bigger than that, and ought not to have grabbed a couple of Canadians to apply some pressure the other way, but you can’t argue China was the only party grabbing hostages, or that Canada had no role to play in this sorry affair.
Why the Chinese chose Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig from among the 300,000 or so Canadians living in China will probably remain a mystery. The former is a consultant who organized cultural exchanges with North Korea; the latter a former diplomat employed by a non-governmental organization that describes its purpose as preventing wars.
Still, we can draw a few lessons from yesterday’s resolution to this longstanding dispute – among them that while he can’t be counted on to put Canadian interests ahead of his own country’s, President Joe Biden is a better friend to Canada than Donald Trump ever was.
Not only did Mr. Biden behave like a grownup and attempt to resolve a national embarrassment caused by his predecessor in a way that didn’t require the United States to admit it had engaged in such a crass and immoral tactic, his State Department timed the resolution to save Canada from being shown up as an imperial satrapy that must do its master’s bidding no matter how risible the master’s command.
So it was with relief and amity all ’round, Ms. Meng was sprung yesterday by Heather Holmes, associate chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court.
“You have been co-operative and courteous throughout,” said the judge. “The court appreciates and thanks you for that.” (Now get moving!)
“Thank you, m’lady,” Ms. Meng graciously replied, speaking English and pausing only for a quick media scrum on the steps of the courthouse as she departed. (I’m outta here!)
It remains to be seen what the Michaels think of having to sit in jail for nearly three years in considerably less comfort than that experienced by Ms. Meng in her Vancouver home while the Canadian government dipsy-doodled around trying to demonstrate its virtuous respect for the rule of law, or the possibility they had to wait a few extra weeks in stir so this could all transpire after the Canadian federal election.
Probably, they will be forgiving about it. After all, the prime minister was on hand to welcome them back last night.
And now that they are safely home, what about Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, the Canadian schmuck found guilty of drug smuggling by China not long before Ms. Meng’s arrest?
Have we all forgotten about him just because he was dumb enough to try to smuggle drugs out of a police state to Australia? For that matter, why would we accept the Chinese courts’ judgment in his case when we didn’t in those of the Michaels?
Given his apparent line of work, he’s probably a less than ideal Canadian citizen. Still, the Chinese courts goosed his 15-year sentence up to a death penalty to put the screws to Canada in the effort to secure Ms. Meng’s release.
Shouldn’t we be unhappy about that too? But nobody in Canada, not even the prime minister, seemed to have a word for the poor guy last night.
CORRECTION: Mr. Schellenberg was convicted of trying to smuggle drugs out of China and into Australia. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this post. In addition, this post has been updated to account for some developments reported this morning. DJC