Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum was well liked by Chinese authorities and his firing has drawn criticism from Chinese media. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS/FILE)

Firing Canada’s ambassador to China said to ‘deepen the crisis’

China’s media are reacting with derision to Canada’s decision to fire its ambassador to China on January 26, 2019. John McCallum had made several statements with regards the legal case involving Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

Canada’s Prime  Minister Justin Trudeau has made it clear that government can in no way interfere with judicial proceedings in a democracy and that Canada had to act on the U.S. request for the extradition of Meng.

Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada after the U.S. required her extradition. She has been released on bail until she fights the extradition in court. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Dec. 12, 2018)

Prime minister ‘had no choice,’ says professor

“Mr. McCallum was sending out signals that suggested that this matter was political and, I think for that reason, and because he violated diplomatic protocol by speculating on a judicial matter, Mr. Trudeau had no choice but to release him from his post,” says Charles Burton, a political science professor at Brock University and a former counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing.

“The completely unprecedented firing of a sitting Canadian ambassador through a press release by the prime minister was just inevitable. Unfortunately, it deepens the crisis between China and Canada that we’re currently facing.”

Michael Kovrig, left, and Michael Spavor are the two Canadians who were arrested and held without charge in China in what is widely seen as retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. (AP/The Canadian Press)

‘We’re not going to be intimidated’

It also does not help Canadian efforts to have China free two Canadians who were arrested in December in what is seen as retaliation for the arrest of Meng. When Canada did not respond to the arrests by freeing Meng and sending her back to China, China appeared to up the ante by sentencing another Canadian to death on drug charges. “If the first one (arrest of two Canadians) was hostage diplomacy, the second one seems to be execution diplomacy,” says Burton. “And similarly this has not made any difference to the Canadian position on Ms. Meng. We’re not going to be intimidated by arbitrary actions on the part of the Chinese government to violate the constitutional principles that inform Canadian democracy.

“One hopes that this message will get through to the Chinese authorities and that they will realize that this tactic is yielding negative results and it would be much better to if we engaged in negotiations to promote trust and reconciliation.” Burton is hopeful that the Canadian government will send a special envoy to China to try to bring this about.

Canada likely to re-evaluate foreign policy on China

But he says the Canadian government which had been actively seeking better trade and ties with China may now be more reticent, particularly given that public opinion has turned against China.

While Canada was seeking greater access to Chinese market, China has several initiatives that may suffer. Among them, China wants Canada to set aside security concerns to allow Huawei equipment to be used in the new 5G telecommunications network. It also wants Canada to remove restrictions on Chinese state investment in Canada’s energy and mineral sectors as well as restrictions on the export of Canadian high technology with potential military application to China. China also sought an extradition treaty with Canada so it could request the return of Chinese nationals who have fallen afoul of the regime and have fled to Canada.  

Says Burton,“I think none of these things are really on the agenda now simply because we don’t have the trust with China to be assured that they would engage with Canada in ways that respect the due process of law and a rules-based international order.”

Canada’s Parliament resumes sitting today and the opposition will certainly grill the prime minister on his handling of the crisis with China.

Prof. Charles Burton explains why Canada’s ambassador to China was fired and discusses the implications.

Categories: International
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