Political and legal experts couldn’t believe what they heard on Friday night.
Just hours after U.S. prosecutors abandoned an 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 that the imprisonment of the two Michaels for espionage had anything to do with Meng’s arrest for fraud, China seemed to have given up on the charade. It was hostage diplomacy, and it seemed to have paid off.
“I’m shocked by what happened yesterday, really shocked,” said Stephanie Carvin, associate professor of international relations at Carlton University. “China has done everything possible to try to make the case that the two incidents are completely separate. By letting the two Michael go, even before Michael Kovrig is sentenced, it shows exactly what it is.
The diplomatic implications of China’s hostage-taking, at first glance as successful as it is brazen, are obscure. China appears to have gotten what it wanted and may now be able to intimidate its future extradition efforts, but experts told the Star that could still have consequences for the country.
Lynette Ong, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said that while Meng’s return was welcomed back to her home country, bringing her home would have a lasting negative impact on the way the world views justice. China.
“Even though, nationally, Meng’s return has been triumphantly greeted as a sign of Chinese might, people internationally have really turned on China because of it,” Ong said. “China has paid a huge cost in the process. Its international reputation is seriously tarnished.
Errol Mendes, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said there are now two emerging schools of thought on what motivated China to free the Michaels quickly enough to dispel doubt that they were hostages.
“It could be Xi Jinping telling the world ‘We are strong now, we can face you regardless of what you think of us’, but I’m not completely convinced,” 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 by keeping the Michaels for a few more months than if they immediately let them go. In time, we will know more.
Ong said the situation had set an “unprecedented precedent” in terms of hostage diplomacy. She said this would affect how arrests of Chinese executives might be carried out in the future, if any.
“It shows that we are sending the wrong signal, that hostage diplomacy is working,” Ong said. “I think if the United States asked an allied country to make an arrest on its behalf now, no one would. “
Ong said if a situation like Meng’s happened again, where the United States sought to criminally indict a prominent Chinese national, the United States would have to send its own personnel to make the arrest.
What happened to the Michaels would have a strong deterrent effect on American allies, she said, who will likely be too nervous to comply with future extradition requests.
Julian Ku, professor of constitutional law at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, called the intimidating effect a “real victory” for China, adding that Canada and the United States were “naive” to think. that the Chinese government would respect their judicial process.
“It’s great that both Michael’s have been released, but overall it’s a loss for the United States and Canada,” said Ku. “It is unlikely that the deal to send Meng home would have been the same they would have made had it not been for the pressure from China having essentially two hostages. “
Ku said that the fact that Meng is allowed to return home and escape criminal responsibility “undermines the US-Canadian legal system and his ability to prosecute and get people to cooperate with extradition.”
Carvin said if it’s China’s victory, it’s Pyrrhic. As part of the deal that brought Meng back, Meng had to admit that the US case against her was factual, which she had denied until this week.
“In the short term, maybe China got what it wanted,” she said. “But in the longer term, it will have created problems for him. I don’t think we should downplay the importance of a senior Huawei official admitting to wrongdoing and signing his name on a document saying so. The Americans now have ammunition, which could play an important role on the road. “
Carvin argues that Canada must now focus on creating a strong foreign policy, adding that neither side, in his view, has put enough effort into it.
“It’s not just the Liberal Party,” she said. “The NDP has put more strategy in its Tik Toks than in its foreign policy. The Conservatives have a lot of loud rhetoric, but not a lot of implementation ideas. All parties have ignored very serious global affairs issues and have determined how we are going to engage with the world. “
Ong said Canada likely could not have done anything to hasten the Michaels’ return, given the “passive and reactive” position Canada found itself in.
“Canada has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to negotiate and negotiate with the United States and China to secure the release of Michaels, which has led to today’s outcome,” she said. “I think it happened as quickly as it could have happened. “
Ku, admitting his frustration with the situation, agreed.
“There is not much that Canada could have done differently,” he said. “The other side was ready to play dirty. “