Toronto Star

Government­s telling very different stories

China denies Canadians’ release was connected to dropping of Meng case


OTTAWA—It was a “highly choreograp­hed” affair, the parallel returns of Meng Wanzhou to China and the long-awaited homecoming of the two Michaels — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — to Canada.

But Canada, the United States and China all deny there was any deal or negotiatio­n to liberate the two Canadian detainees in return for the release of Huawei’s chief financial officer.

And on Monday, government­s in the East and West told very different stories of how and why it all came about.

The U.S. and Canada insisted that the decision to release the two men was reached by the Chinese authoritie­s in the face of unrelentin­g pressure by Canadian, American and internatio­nal allies, including U.S. President Joe Biden, who opposed China’s “arbitrary detention” of them.

In the Chinese version, the two Canadian detainees sought bail “for medical reasons.”

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokespers­on said they “confessed to their crimes” and were released on bail after an examinatio­n by Chinese medical authoritie­s, a guarantee put up by Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, and after a court order gave the green light. Hua Chunying warned national security charges could be pursued if the men fail to “abide” by the bail ruling.

In an interview with the Star, Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, acknowledg­ed there was a “highly choreograp­hed” arrangemen­t to whisk Kovrig and Spavor out of China once it was clear that Meng’s defence lawyers were poised to reach a plea deal — a deferred prosecutio­n agreement — with the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Those stars started to align in the past month,” she said. “It wasn’t clear that it was going to succeed, but it was clear that ... something had shifted, and that there may be an opportunit­y here.”

Hillman, who had been deeply involved in efforts over two years to pressure China for the Canadians’ release, said the Chinese government “decided” to act when it was clear Meng’s talks with the U.S. were “advancing, and under this pressure that had been mounting” by Canada, its embassy in Beijing, and allies around the world. “China, at some point … came to the decision that they wanted to put this behind them.”

She declined to comment on China’s claim that the Canadians were released for health reasons. “China made a decision, right? China decided to detain them, China decided to let them go,” she said.

“Their motivation­s are their motivation­s, and I think people are drawing conclusion­s from the facts here.”

Neither Kovrig nor his family were giving interviews Monday. Aside from looking pale, he and Spavor appeared strong as they came down the stairs of a government jet in Calgary on Saturday morning, and a Canadian official told the Star they appeared “remarkably” strong and resilient.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted that there was “no negotiatio­n” between China and the Biden administra­tion, and that Meng’s release was an independen­tly made “law-enforcemen­t decision.”

The decision to reach a deferred prosecutio­n agreement with Meng, which allowed her to plead not guilty on Friday in exchange for admissions that Huawei had tried to evade U.S. sanctions against doing business in Iran, was “an action by the Department of Justice which is an independen­t department of justice,” she repeatedly said.

Psaki acknowledg­ed that Biden had pressed for the release of the “two Michaels” in a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sept. 9, and that Xi raised the case of “the Huawei official” in the same conversati­on.

“But again, there was no negotiatio­n on this call.”

In New York, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said Canada’s view of China’s “arbitrary” detention of the two Canadians was unchanged, and he held up the experience as the consequenc­e of taking a principled stand.

“Two days ago, we welcomed back to Canada Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were imprisoned by the Chinese government after Canada applied both Canadian and internatio­nal law in response to a request for extraditio­n of a Chinese citizen,” said Garneau. “Canada observed the rule of law, and two Canadian citizens paid a heavy price for this commitment.

“We did so as a matter of principle, and we are proud of the courage of our two citizens, the good faith and resilience of their families, and the determinat­ion and creativity of our diplomats. We continue to oppose the way these two citizens were treated,” Garneau said.

“Canada will never forget this experience and this lesson. We shall continue to press for an end to arbitrary detention, wherever and however it occurs.”

Hillman said diplomats had worked ceaselessl­y for more than two years to get the Michaels released, and in the end the breakthrou­gh came because of progress in the U.S. legal case against Meng.

She said it is “tricky” to outline exactly how the men’s liberation unfolded “because these are delicate diplomatic discussion­s that were required to bring all of those pieces together in that very highly choreograp­hed series of events that people saw.

“And in order to make that work in a way that was good for the Michaels and worked for them, there’s a certain amount of privacy … that those involved in putting those logistics together over in Beijing want. The government there, as I said, was eager to put this behind them.”

Nor does the federal Liberal government view it as “constructi­ve” to go into specifics because of “our desire to move these relationsh­ips forward.”

But Hillman said the case of the “two Michaels” was undoubtedl­y important to the U.S.

“The U.S. is very pleased that Canada abided by our extraditio­n commitment­s, that we proceeded in the face of enormous pressure, economic and obviously very serious pressure at a human level, to move forward with extraditio­n case in Vancouver, independen­t of any thing other than ... the rule of law. And I think that that was something that they deeply respected and were grateful for.”

Asked if she thought the Canada-China relationsh­ip is repaired, Hillman said it’s “an important step,” before she said it was a question best answered by others.

“As a diplomat, I think it‘s important for us to have lines of communicat­ion and good relations to the best that we can with all countries, and of course, including China.”

 ?? FRANK GUNN THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Michael Kovrig, pictured with his wife, Vina Nadjibulla, and Michael Spavor appeared strong as they landed back in Canada.
FRANK GUNN THE CANADIAN PRESS Michael Kovrig, pictured with his wife, Vina Nadjibulla, and Michael Spavor appeared strong as they landed back in Canada.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada