Toronto Star

The bitter lessons of Meng and the pair of Michaels

- WENRAN JIANG CONTRIBUTO­R Wenran Jiang, a retired political science professor and founding director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, is an advisory board member of Toronto-based Institute for Peace & Diplomacy.

In an in-depth webinar conversati­on with me last month, Chas Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador and the principal interprete­r for Richard Nixon’s 1972 China visit, put the cases of Meng Wanzhou and the “two Michaels” in clear context.

The United States, assisted by Canada, took Meng hostage in the first place as part of its trade-and-technology war with China; Beijing swiftly retaliated by jailing the Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. On Friday, in a dramatic unfolding of events that could have come from a Hollywood movie script, both Meng and the two Michaels were simultaneo­usly released and flying back to their respective home countries.

The detention of Meng by the Canadian authoritie­s under a U.S. extraditio­n request in December 2018 and the jailing of Kovrig and Spavor by China shortly after, has not only deepened tensions between Washington and Beijing. It’s also sent the Canada-China relationsh­ip to its lowest point in history.

As I wrote immediatel­y after Meng’s arrest, it was shocking and unpreceden­ted for the U.S. to deploy criminal proceeding­s targeting a senior Chinese corporate executive personally, instead of going after the company through civil litigation as it had previously practiced under the Department of Commerce. Former president Donald Trump openly politicize­d the case by declaring Meng a trade bargaining chip with China.

Since the extraditio­n proceeding­s began in the spring of 2019, emerging evidence has shown the U.S. case against Meng to be weak at best. It was no surprise that the Department of Justice reached out to Meng last November to potentiall­y drop the charges, under the condition of her pleading guilty. That was firmly rejected.

Now, the DOJ has agreed that Meng can plead not guilty on all charges — while accepting facts that she misreprese­nted Huawei’s relationsh­ip with its subsidiary Skycom, as well as violating U.S. sanctions against Iran in a “deferred prosecutio­n agreement.” The DOJ will drop all charges against her later next year if she abides with the DPA terms.

This is a legal compromise allowing both parties to declare victory: Meng’s not guilty plea can demonstrat­e that the U.S. may not be able to convict her in a trial, while the U.S. can use the acknowledg­ed wrongdoing by Meng to potentiall­y pursue the prosecutio­n of Huawei as a corporatio­n.

Ironically, this arrangemen­t returns the U.S. to its traditiona­l behaviour of going after the corporate entity for any violation of relevant U.S. laws, rather than targeting individual­s. Diplomatic­ally, the Biden administra­tion has checked an item off of Beijing’s list of preconditi­ons for improving bilateral ties, potentiall­y paving the way for a summit between U.S. President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

While both Canada and China are welcoming their own citizens home with outpouring­s of emotion and support, we need to ask some tough questions. Should Ottawa have arrested Meng in the first place? Why did this final package deal take so long if a “hostage exchange” is the result? Why did the Canadian government decide to depend on Washington to work out a deal with Beijing instead of having the minister of justice stop the court process, as required by the extraditio­n procedure, when Trump openly politicize­d the case?

In any case, the Canadian government should be relieved that its approach of counting on Washington to resolve the crisis finally worked, and that there will be no more drawn-out court proceeding­s and appeals following the judge’s verdict. It should also be relieved there is no need for Justice Minister David Lametti to make any decisions, even though he (or Jody Wilson-Raybould before him) could have ended the process at any point within the extraditio­n treaty framework. Ottawa will welcome the U.S. move, and claim victory that its insistence on the rule of law and nointerfer­ence in legal process has prevailed.

Unfortunat­ely, after the two Michaels settle at home, the China hawks will certainly begin to go after the Trudeau cabinet for working with the Biden administra­tion in encouragin­g China’s “hostage diplomacy.” The Canadian public and policy-makers alike must also confront the challenge of resetting relations with Beijing. Should we pursue further confrontat­ion, decoupling and hostility, or should we seek to restore relations with China based on the lessons we have learned?

 ?? FRANK GUNN THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Michael Kovrig, centre, embraces his wife, Vina Nadjibulla, left, and sister Ariana Botha after arriving in Toronto Saturday.
FRANK GUNN THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Michael Kovrig, centre, embraces his wife, Vina Nadjibulla, left, and sister Ariana Botha after arriving in Toronto Saturday.
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