The Morning Brief – 03.25.21

By Bruce Carson


The sham trials of Michael Spavor last Friday and Michael Kovrig on Monday have taken place.

Will the diplomatic show of support outside the courtroom where Michael Kovrig was placed on trial make a difference to China?

The United States, under President Biden has increased its support for the two Michaels, according to Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S, Kirsten Hillman; they are being treated as if they were Americans.

This statement has been repeated by American officials.

On Monday, Canada, the U.S., UK and EU imposed sanctions on four Chinese citizens and one Chinese business; has Canada found its spine?

With the sham trials over, what are the next steps?

Canada’s former Ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques, who has been a tireless help on China issues, was quoted in Tristin Hopper’s recent article in the National Post as saying it was no coincidence that the trials of the two Michaels were scheduled just as Biden’s officials met face to face in Anchorage, Alaska with Chinese officials.

The trials at the same time as the meeting would presumably show China’s strength and power.

Saint-Jacques commenting on the trial of Michael Spavor, held last Friday, said it was not a normal trial. Spavor was not allowed to see the evidence against him. Saint-Jacques added that in these types of cases, conviction is a 99.7% certainty.

Last Saturday he said that he thought the verdict could come this week with a severe prison sentence designed to place added pressure on Canada and the U.S. as they deal with Huawei’s Ms. Meng, facing extradition.

His view is that the two cases are completely linked. He hoped that a plea bargain with Meng would be possible, as without her back in China this matter will not end soon.

Paul Wells commenting on this case raised an interesting point. It is his view that China in taking the two Michaels hostage believed Canada would cave in almost immediately and end the extradition proceedings, allowing Meng to return to China.

This hasn’t happened and there has been no progress on the matter for China; the hostage taking hasn’t worked and the parties are now at a stalemate.

During CTV’s Question Period on Sunday, Canada’s Ambassador to the United States Kirsten Hillman stated that the U.S. condemned the arbitrary detention and that the U.S. is treating the two Michaels as if they were American citizens.

Monday saw a longer “trial” for Michael Spavor but again, held in secret. It could be that this trial which saw a show of strength by the diplomatic corps, 28 diplomats representing 26 countries in attendance outside the court house might shake China’s view of what it is doing.

In case China did not believe countries were rallying against the absence of human rights and rule of law, this demonstration might have convinced it otherwise.

To make sense out of China’s position a Toronto Sun editorial last weekend set out the 2013 Document No. 9 from China’s top communist officials. It lists seven points as seven no’s; universal values, press freedom, civil society, citizens’ rights, the Party’s historical aberrations, the privileged class and independence of the judiciary.

Prime Minister Trudeau on China’s judicial process said “China needs to understand it is not just about the Canadians, it’s about respect for the Rule of Law and relationships with a broad range of western countries that is at play with the arbitrary detention and coercive diplomacy they have engaged.”

Guy Saint-Jacques said on Monday after the second trial that perhaps President Biden’s summit of democracies could weaponize trade dealing with China. His view is that while U.S. help with the issue of the two Michaels is useful, Canada and the United States must start dealing with Ms. Meng.

On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Garneau said his top priority was to secure the safe return of the two Michaels. He added that Beijing knows the “eyes of the world are on this case.”

Former diplomat Colin Robertson on Monday said that the democracies need to stand up to China as saving face is important to China.

Also on Monday, Canada announced that it had joined with the UK, EU, and U.S. to impose sanctions on four Chinese officials and one Chinese state entity for “their participation in gross and systematic human rights violations in the Xinjiang region.”

Trudeau is quoted in a Reuter’s article as saying “this measure reflects our grave concern over systematic human rights abuses taking place in the region.” He added “we will continue to work closely with our international partners to pursue accountability and transparency.”

China reacted to the imposition of sanctions through its embassy in Ottawa stating that Canada has no right to lecture Canada. China also stated “should the EU insist on taking wrong actions detrimental to China’s interests, we will react with a firm hand.”

Yesterday, Jessie Snyder of the Post chain relying on an anonymous source with knowledge of Canada’s approach to China quotes the source as saying that “China has changed. As China has become more aggressive in its language and its tactics, we have had to adapt our approach to the reality of the situation.”

So Canada, backed by the U.S., EU and UK is ready to take a tougher approach to China. Will this help the two Michaels or the Uyghurs? Former hostage Kevin Garrett is quoted in an article by Tristin Hopper saying “I think until Meng Wanzhou is figured out it’ll probably keep going.” In other words the stalemate will continue.

It would seem that the solution is now in the hands of the U.S. The Americans need to prioritize putting Meng on trial with the plight of the two Michaels who are seen as Americans for this purpose.

Without a plea deal for Ms. Meng it is difficult to see an early end to this standoff, particularly if Meng is extradited to the U.S.

Also, will Prime Minister Trudeau continue with his new approach to China? He could demonstrate that by banning Huawei from Canada’s 5G networks.

To Come

  • Supreme Court of Canada releases its decision on the constitutionality of the federal carbon tax
  • Quebec’s provincial budget is to be presented
March 31
  • GDP numbers for January to be released
April 9
  • Job numbers for March to be released

The House of Commons takes a two week break at Easter and the Morning Brief will as well, returning on Wednesday, April 14.

– BC