Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has fired the country’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, for saying that the detained chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei could make a strong case to avoid extradition to the U.S. — and that perhaps it would be really good if Canada just backed down on the matter, the Guardian reported on Saturday.
Meng Wanzhou, the executive in question and the daughter of Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei, was detained in Canada in late 2018 at the behest of U.S. authorities who accuse her of overseeing a labyrinthine scheme to evade nuclear sanctions imposed on Iran. The incident has greatly damaged relations between Canada and China, which has characterised the ongoing court battles over Meng as an abuse of power.
McCallum told the Star on Jan. 25 that “From Canada’s point of view, if (the U.S.) drops the extradition request, that would be great for Canada.” As the Star noted, he had previously told a group Chinese-language journalists that Meng has “strong arguments” to prevent her extradition from Canada and that it “would not be a happy outcome” if she was sent to the U.S.
He later apologised and said he misspoke, though the Star noted:
Those reading between the lines in Beijing as in Washington could reasonably conclude that, should the American extradition application pass a court examination, the government might be open — on some conditions — to use its political discretion to prevent it.
Canadian authorities have been moving the case forward as the Jan. 30 deadline for the U.S. to formally request Meng’s extradition looms. But as the New York Times noted, Trudeau’s government is under great pressure not to politicize the case, and McCallum’s remarks “stunned seasoned diplomatic observers.”
The case may affect the fates of three Canadians currently in Chinese custody, two of whom were detained on the vague grounds of “endangering national security” and another sentenced to death for alleged drug smuggling, the Times wrote.
A former member of Parliament, McCallum had also previously had top-level jobs as the minister of defence, veterans affairs, national revenue, and immigration, refugees, and citizenship. According to the BBC, his wife is ethnically Chinese and “he had a large Chinese-Canadian population in his former constituency in Ontario,” factors which drove his original interest in the ambassadorship.
Trudeau issued a statement on Saturday saying: “Last night I asked for and accepted John McCallum’s resignation as Canada’s Ambassador to China. For almost two decades, John McCallum has served Canadians honourably and with distinction… I thank him and his family for his service over the past many years.”
McCallum “really made it untenable for the prime minister to sustain him [in his post] for any length of time and he had to go,” Brock University professor and former diplomat Charles Burton told the Guardian.
“In private discussions with the Chinese he might be able to say those things,” Canadian Global Affairs Institute vice president and former diplomat Colin Robertson told CBC News. “To say those things publicly is completely counter to what the prime minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have been saying—that this is a judicial process based on the rule of law.”
Meng was granted bail in December 2018, though under conditions including a strict curfew, ankle GPS monitoring bracelet, and hiring a 24/7 security team at her Vancouver residence.
The BBC wrote that the Chinese government is still lobbying to have the extradition request withdrawn, though the U.S. shows no sign of backing down. Chinese officials have also denied that the fate of the three Canadians is tied to the diplomatic showdown, the BBC added.
Huawei faces other problems in the U.S., which is still in the middle of a trade war with China. Those include reports that the Department of Justice is preparing for a criminal case against the company over alleged trade theft and continued accusations (albeit without hard evidence) it could be spying on behalf of the Chinese military or intelligence agencies.
Ren has publicly denied the espionage accusations, though the U.S. and several of its allies have imposed restrictions on its ability to do business, particularly in the field of telecommunications gear.