Monday, June 22, 2020

China's prisoner swap offer puts Trudeau in a tough bind

Well, finally China has put it in black and white: they have offered a direct prisoner swap between Meng Wanzhou and "the two Michaels".
Canadian nationals Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested on trumped-up charges in direct retaliation for the arrest in Vancouver of the Huawei CFO in December of 2018, pursuant to an American request that Canada had little choice but to carry through. Since then, Ms. Meng has been under luxurious house arrest in one of her Vancouver homes, while the two Michaels have been holed up in horrible Chinese jail cells and denied consular or any other visits. Just last week, China finally brought official charges against them, again in direct retaliation for a Canadian court confirmation that Ms. Meng could legally be extradited to the USA.
And now, China has dropped all pretence that the arrests of the two Michaels were linked to the plight of Ms. Meng (this suggestion, understood by all the world, has up till now met with outrage protestations from China that the arrests were purely internal judicial actions, completely unrelated to the wider world).
So, to mix metaphors, the gloves are off and the ball is now back in Canada's court, and in a horribly tempting easy position. Some advisers - mainly ex-Liberal ministers and ex-senior judges, with the added impetus of the Michaels' families, who are beginning to be more vocal in their requests and demands - are saying that this may be the best last chance to get the two Michaels released (they could be facing life imprisonment or even the death penalty under China's draconian legal system).
But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau feels obliged to follow the sacrosanct "rule of law", and to protect the integrity of Canada's "strong and independent justice system".
Contrary to what the Liberal government has been claiming for some time now, Canadian legal experts have confirmed, if there ever was really a doubt, that Canada CAN legally release Ms. Meng and just abandon the extradition order at any time. But the real issue has always been not COULD we, but SHOULD we?
It's a really tough call, and you can see both sides. I would hate to be gambling with the lives of individuals in this way, but Trudeau is very much between a rock and a hard place right now. Give in to Chinese hostage diplomacy (in the hope that China reciprocates and does as they say they will), risk alienating the Trump administration even more, and give China carte blanche to go around kidnapping the citizens of any middle powers like Canada with whom they take umbrage; or take a hard line, risk the lives of two Canadian citizens, and further alienate a retributive China.

Interestingly, in a recent poll, 72% of Canadians think that Justin Trudeau is taking the right approach, and only 28% believe that the prisoner swap should be pursued.

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