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The running battle between the Trump administration and New York Times spilled into Canada on Thursday at a joint press conference in Ottawa, where Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland hosted her American counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Generally joint press conferences of this nature are relatively benign and routine affairs. But during the Q&A, Pompeo took exception to Times reporter Lara Jakes’ question about whether Canada “could ask the United States to drop its extradition demand of Ms. Meng (Wanzhou)” to secure the release of two Canadians held in China.
After Freeland’s long and drawn out response – her short answer was essentially no – Pompeo teed off on Jakes, accusing her of taking “the Chinese line” on a diplomatic crisis that has caused relations between Canada and China to reach their nadir.
“The arbitrary detention of two Canadians in China is fundamentally different, as a human rights matter, as a rule-of-law matter,” said Pompeo, who lauded Canada’s “due process” and behaviour “that’s deeply consistent with the way decent nations work.”
“So when you ask this question and connect them up, that’s the way China wants to talk about it. They want to talk about these two as if they’re equivalent, as if they’re morally similar. Which they fundamentally are not.”
On December 1, 2018, Meng – Chief Financial Officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei – was arrested by Canadian authorities as she transited through Vancouver International Airport.
Meng is currently under house arrest, awaiting extradition to United States where she’s wanted for fraud and conspiracy charges related to business Huawei allegedly conducted in Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions against the Islamist regime.
In apparent retaliation for her arrest, Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were taken into custody by China and later charged with spying. Thursday marks the 255th day of detention for both men.
Freeland responded to Jakes by noting Meng’s arrest and possible extradition stateside, “is not a political decision.”
“Extradition is a criminal justice matter. It is not a political matter and the case of Ms. Meng is currently before the Canadian courts as it ought to be,” said Freeland. “As for the U.S. case against Ms. Meng, I think that’s a matter for the U.S. and the U.S. criminal justice system.”
In his opening remarks, Pompeo called Spavor’s and Kovrig’s detention “arbitrary and unacceptable” and thanked Canada for “following the rule of law and detaining Meng”.
The Secretary of State reiterated face-to-face talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping where Trump directly lobbied Xi to release the Canadians, and said the U.S. would continue such efforts.
Pompeo’s one-day trip to Ottawa was for bilateral discussions on a range of issues in the lead up to the G7 Summit in France next week. These included ratification of the new US/Canada/Mexico free trade agreement, peace talks with North Korea, the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, and Russian belligerence.
“Even as we stand shoulder-to-shoulder on these many years of common ground, we can do more,” said Pompeo. “In Eastern Europe we must continue to stand with our NATO allies in the face of ongoing Russian aggression.”
While both Freeland and Pompeo were in decent spirits, all was not wine-and-roses between the top diplomats. Pompeo took the media opportunity to challenge Canada to meet is NATO commitment of spending two percent of its Gross Domestic Product on the military – we currently ring in at approximately 1.2 per cent.
“That’s why we also discussed today, the importance of Canada meeting its commitment…of (spending) two percent of GDP on national defence,” noted Pompeo. “You could set a powerful example for all of our European partners.”
The countries also appear to depart on bringing Russia back into the G7 fold – formerly G8, until Putin and his regime were expelled for invading and annexing Crimea in Ukraine.
In recent days, Trump has called for allowing Russia back into the exclusive economic group. When asked about this, Freeland provided her caveat.
“Canada has a very clear position…the way for Russia to show that it wants to (be committed to the rule of law and democracy) is to leave Crimea and to end the war in the Donbass (region of Ukraine),” Freeland said. “It’s very simple.”
Pompeo did not offer any comment on the issue.