Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said the Canadian government was under no illusions as relations with China approach normalization, a day after two men detained by that country for three years finally returned. at their home.
“There was no path to a relationship with China as long as the two Michael’s were detained,” Garneau said Sunday in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live, referring to Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Kovrig, a diplomat, and Spavor, an entrepreneur who has worked in North Korea and China, were separately detained and charged with espionage shortly after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada in December 2018.
The series of events has cooled Canada-China relations. Garneau told host Rosemary Barton that when it comes to normalizing relations, Canada “has its eyes wide open” and the government is now following a four-pronged approach to China: “to coexist “,” Compete “,” cooperate “and” challenge. “
China’s denunciations of the arbitrary detention of Kovrig and Spavor are an example of the rising superpower’s challenge, Garneau said.
Return of Kovrig, Spavor a “memorable moment”: Garneau
Garneau was in Calgary on Saturday to greet the so-called “two Michaels” upon their arrival in Canada, nearly three years after their first detention in China.
âWatching them land and get off the plane and land on Canadian soil was very moving,â he said.
“I think you might feel a collective sigh of relief from Canada and joy to see our two Michaels finally back on Canadian soil.”
A digital media outlet supervised by the Chinese Communist Party reported on Monday that Spavor and Kovrig had been released on conditions due to “illness”.
âWell, I saw both Michaels yesterday. They’re in great shape,â Garneau said. Other state-controlled media out of China praised the efforts of Chinese diplomats for Meng Wanzhou’s return and spoke positively of a possible restart of Canada-China relations.
From the perspective of the Canadian public, the events leading up to Kovrig and Spavor’s eventual return unfolded quickly. Meng Wanzhou virtually appeared in New York City court on Friday and it was announced that she had reached a deferred prosecution agreement over the fraud charges brought against her by U.S. authorities.
She was then in a Vancouver courtroom, where her extradition case was dropped. She went straight to the airport and boarded a flight to China.
Shortly after, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Spavor and Kovrig were on a flight to Canada. The two men landed on Saturday morning.
âI think the Canadians were very surprised. We’ve been working in the background for a very long time, âsaid Garneau. He told Barton he heard about the deferred prosecution agreement several weeks ago and said “that was really what opened the door for the two Michaels to return.”
It was certainly a surprise for Jacco Zwetsloot, a friend of Spavor. Zwetsloot said that once he heard about the Wanzhou accord, he predicted that Spavor’s release could take six months. Then he heard about Trudeau’s announcement on Friday.
âAt this point everything went crazy. It was crazy,â he said.
Watch | Friends of Michael Spavor, Michael Kovrig on their return to Canada
Zwetsloot met Spavor in Seoul, South Korea, and bonded out of mutual interest in North Korea. Spavor is an entrepreneur who has worked in organizing trips to North Korea.
Zwetsloot said he missed Spavor and his friends and looked forward to seeing him again: “I have a bottle of North Korean snake liquor ready for you to return to Seoul to see us again.”
“Very clear” link between the cases: Garneau
China has denied that there is a link between the cases of Meng Wanzhou and Kovrig and Spavor.
But the timing of the exits was remarkable, he said. “It is very clear (…) that the immediate return of the two Michael’s linked this to the Meng Wanzhou case in a very direct way,” Garneau said.
The Foreign Secretary also said he didn’t think the timing of the two men’s return had anything to do with the timing of Monday’s federal election: “I think it turned out that way. . “
He also did not rule out the possibility of compensating the two men.
“We are very sensitive to the fact that they have gone through an extraordinary ordeal over the past 1,019 days and that if it is necessary for us to be there to support them, we will be there to support them.”
Garneau said the detention of the two Michaels had damaged China’s image internationally, as shown by growing support for an international declaration against arbitrary detention.
“It’s good for countries to have disagreements, but you cannot resort to arbitrary imprisonment of citizens of another country because you are not happy with that country.”
Other Canadians still detained in China
Joanna Chiu, national correspondent for Toronto Star and a friend of Kovrig, said she was relieved to see him return, but noted that many people feared “not much has really changed.”
âWe are concerned that if you are still a Canadian living in China today, what happened might not make you feel more secure, or it might not happen again,â Chiu said.
She also noted that Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were not the only Canadians detained in China, including Huseyin Celil, a Uyghur activist detained since 2006.
Canadians Robert Schellenberg, Xu Weihong, Ye Jianhui and Fan Wei have all been sentenced to death for drug-related offenses in China in recent years.