© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies chief financial officer, leaves home to attend a court hearing in Vancouver
By David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada could see the end of a nasty diplomatic battle with China if the United States reach an agreement to release a Huawei executive from house arrest in Vancouver, but the affair shows Canada without the weight of its southern Neighbors no bargaining power with Beijing.
And even if Meng Wanzhou, Chief Financial Officer of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, returns to China, bilateral relations will still face major challenges.
Shortly after Meng was apprehended on a U.S. arrest warrant in December 2018, China arrested two Canadian men – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – who are now facing espionage charges. After the Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne failed to secure their immediate release, he has been talking for months about a formal "reset" of relations with China.
The idea was to strike a balance between human rights issues and defending Hong Kong's independence, while working with China on issues like climate change.
Four people who were directly familiar with the matter said efforts stalled due to internal disagreements over how to proceed and the realization that Ottawa had very little influence over Beijing.
"The only way to put real pressure on China is to have a number of like-minded nations form a common front. The United States is the main actor here, and without it nothing will happen," said one person who is directly involved with politics is familiar to reset conversations.
US prosecutors are discussing a deal with Meng's lawyers to clear criminal charges against her, said a person familiar with the matter.
"Let's hope that the discussions are serious and that a solution can be found, otherwise, in my opinion, we would be in a mess for a long time," said Guy Saint-Jacques, former Canadian ambassador to China, to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Canadian officials are silent on whether they have a role in the Meng talks, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to comment when asked about it Friday. His "top priority" is to release the detainees, he said.
Foreign policy experts said Canada must insist that the administration of US President Donald Trump – who has not always enjoyed good relations with Ottawa – get a guarantee from China to release the Canadians under an agreement.
"Without the two Michaels that are part of the package, we have absolutely no control over whether Meng should return to China," said Phil Calvert, a former Canadian diplomat in China and now a research fellow at the University of Victoria.
Even if Meng were released, the remaining challenge is whether to allow Huawei to deliver devices for next-generation 5G telecommunications networks. Other big allies have banned it, but Ottawa says it still decides what to do.
Canada has effectively blocked Huawei, according to sources, but refuses to say so publicly for fear of harming the fate of the two detainees.
Trudeau's liberal minority government, whose government depends on other parties, is under pressure from official opposition conservatives to take a much firmer line with China.
"It hasn't been reset. I can't point to one thing that has changed about China," Conservative leader Erin O & # 39; Toole said in an interview on November 19.
The Champagne office referred to comments made by the Foreign Minister last week in which he said Canada would take a flexible approach to China. He also said that "harsh and irresponsible rhetoric" would not help the inmates.
US President-elect Joe Biden said this week that one of his priorities is to meet with allies "so that we can develop a coherent strategy for China". It is unclear what role Ottawa would play in such talks.
Like-minded democracies in the region such as Japan or South Korea are important allies for coordinated China policy, said a person familiar with the matter, adding, "Without the United States, Canada would have no China policy."