Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig landed on Canadian soil on Saturday after arbitrarily detained in China for 1020 days.
But while experts are applauding America’s role in getting the two Michaels home, the White House is distancing itself from development.
“We have an independent Justice Department that has made independent decisions, law enforcement decisions,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during the briefing on Monday.
“At the same time, we have made no secret about our push to release the two Michaels. This is certainly positive news and good news.”
The freedoms of the two men came just hours after Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou secured a deal with US prosecutors to drop charges against him – and the extradition order that had been keeping him in Canada since December 2018.
Despite the White House’s denial, a former Canadian foreign minister is speculating that Biden is responsible for bringing home the two Michaels.
“Clearly, it was President (Joe) Biden who actually managed to do this, because he had the advantage that he was willing to negotiate the lesser charges against Meng Wanzhou,” said former Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley. argued.
“So he had leverage. We didn’t and we still don’t.”
Just hours after the US dropped the extradition order, Spavor and Kovrig were put on a flight to Canada.
Nevertheless, China refused to free Spavor and Kovrig for Meng’s deal, citing “health” reasons for returning to Canada.
“Meng Wanzhou’s case is completely different in nature from Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a daily briefing on Monday.
China released two Canadians on bail, “with a diagnosis by professional medical institutions and guaranteed by Canada’s ambassador to China,” Hua said.
Experts say it is clear that the two cases were closely linked, and Meng’s deal was clearly a catalyst to free Spavor and Kovrig.
“I think in the mind of the world, there is no doubt that both the arrests are related and the releases are related,” said Wei Cui, a professor of law at the University of British Columbia.
Manly echoed Cui’s comments, arguing that without Meng’s release, “there is no other way” the two Michaels would have been freed.
“The Canadian people must acknowledge and be grateful that President Biden clearly resolved the Meng Wanzhou issue for China conditionally upon the release of the two Michaels. There is no other way for this to happen,” he said.
“If they had just sorted it out and let Meng go, I think both Michaels would probably have spent a long time waiting in China.”
Meanwhile, the Canadian government has remained silent on the details of the effort it made to bring Spavor and Kovrig home. However, Foreign Affairs Minister Mark Garneau gave his hat to the US administration during an interview of west block Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday.
“Some of these details will be revealed in due course. But we’ve always been too preoccupied with the United States. I myself, along with Secretary (Antony) Blinken, the Prime Minister and the President – they realized how important it was for us to find a way to bring the two Michaels home,” Garneau said.
“Our ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, was very busy on the Chinese side.”
Garneau said the whole thing “came together” when the US courts decided to reach a settlement with Meng.
“It was really the moment we felt we had collectively turned the corner and that led to the return of two Michaels,” he said.
Kovrig also spoke briefly with Granthshala News. Although he did not share details of the lead up to his independence, he said he is thrilled to be home.
“I am so happy to be back home with my family and back to Canada. And I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family and finally getting out and seeing all the beauty of Canada,” he told Granthshala News in an interview.
“I am very happy and thank you very much.”
Kovrig’s story had a happy ending, but there are 115 Canadians still in custody in China – including Robert Schellenberg.
Just a month after Meng’s arrest, China sentenced Canada’s Robert Schellenberg to death after a hastily scheduled retrial for his drug trafficking conviction in China. The government has repeatedly asked for clemency in Schellenberg’s case, but so far it has not been granted.
Manly warned that, as things stand, “we have no leverage left.”
“I think the Chinese were surprised that we were able to create widespread international pressure from heads of government of other countries to take up Michael’s issue,” he said.
“That’s not going to happen with these other cases, whatever their merits or not.”
— With files from the Canadian Press