Political and legal experts couldn’t believe what they were hearing on Friday night.
Just hours after US prosecutors dropped the extradition warrant and allowed Canada to release Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, China announced that Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor would also be released.
After years of denying two Michaels’ imprisonment for espionage had nothing to do with Meng’s arrest for fraud, China looked to have given up. It was hostage diplomacy, and it seemed to have paid off.
“I am shocked, really shocked by what happened yesterday,” said Stephanie Carwin, associate professor of international relations at Carleton University. “China is doing everything possible to try to completely separate the two incidents. By letting the two Michaels go even before Michael Kovrig is sentenced, it shows exactly what it’s about.
The diplomatic implications of China’s hostage-taking are as questionable as they were at first glance. China seems to have got what it wanted, and may now be able to scuttle its way out of future extradition efforts, but experts told the Star that it may still come with consequences for the country. could.
Lynette Ong, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said Meng’s return is being appreciated in her home country, but bringing her home would have a lasting, negative impact on how the world views China.
“Even though, domestically, Meng’s return was greeted triumphantly as a sign of Chinese power, internationally people have actually turned against China because of it,” Ong said. “China has paid a heavy price in the process. As a result its international reputation has really been tarnished.”
Errol Mendes, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said there are now two emerging schools of thought about what prompted China to release Michaels quickly to remove suspicion that he was a hostage.
“It may be Xi Jinping telling the world ‘we are strong now, we can take you on, regardless of what you think of us,’ but I am not entirely sure of that,” he said. “I think there was some sort of discussion between President Biden and President Xi, where Biden pointed out that Xi had more to lose than keeping Michaels for a few more months, if he released him immediately. . Over time, we’ll find out more.”
Ong said the situation has set an “unprecedented precedent” in terms of hostage diplomacy. She said this would affect how Chinese officials could be arrested in the future, should there be a reason.
“It shows that we are sending the wrong signal, that hostage diplomacy works,” Ong said. “I think if America asks any ally to make arrests on its behalf, no one will.”
Ong said that if a situation like Meng resurfaces, where the US is trying to criminally charge a high-profile Chinese national, the US will have to send its personnel to make an arrest.
What has happened to Michaels will act as a strong deterrent to US allies, she said, who will be too nervous to comply with future extradition requests.
Julian Kuo, a professor of constitutional law at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, called the effect of this threat a “real victory” for China, adding that Canada and the US were “naive” to think that the Chinese government was taking their judicial process. will respect.
“It’s great that two Michaels have been released, but overall, it’s a loss for the US and Canada,” Koo said. “The deal to send Meng home is unlikely to be the same deal they would have done if the pressure from China had not been for essentially the two hostages.”
Kuo said that allowing Meng to return home and avoid criminal liability “undermines the US-Canada legal system and his ability to cooperate with prosecution and extradition of people.”
Carwin said that if it is a victory for China, it is Pyrrhic. As part of the deal that allowed Meng’s return, Meng had to admit that the US case against him was factual, which he vehemently denied until this week.
“In the short term, maybe China got what it wanted,” she said. “But in the long term, it would have created some issues for it. I don’t think we should underestimate the importance of a senior Huawei official admitting to wrongdoing and signing a document in his name. Americans now have some ammunition, which can play significantly down the road. “
Carwin argues that Canada now needs to focus on building a strong foreign policy, adding that neither side, in his view, has made enough efforts to do so.
“It’s not just the Liberal Party,” she said. “NDP put more strategy in its Tik Tok than its foreign policy. Conservatives have a lot of loud rhetoric, but not a lot of ideas for implementation. All sides have ignored the problems of very serious global affairs and figured out how we are going to engage with the world.”
Ong said there was nothing Canada could do to expedite Michaels’ return because of the “passive and reactive” situation in Canada.
“Canada worked tirelessly behind the scenes to negotiate and bargain with the US and the Chinese to secure Michaels’ release, which led to today’s outcome,” she said. “I think it happened as fast as it could have been.”
Ku, admitting his disappointment with the situation, agreed.
“Canada couldn’t have done much differently,” he said. “The other side was ready to play dirty.”