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Pompeo calls on China to release two Canadians

December 14, 2018

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday downplayed the notion that Canada is getting caught in the middle of U.S.-China tensions, even as he called on Beijing to release two Canadians it detained this week after Canada had arrested a top Chinese executive at the Trump administration’s request.

“The unlawful detention of two Canadian citizens is unacceptable and they should be returned,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters during a joint press conference with Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland at State Department headquarters in Washington.

Ms. Freeland made similar comments about the situation, although both she and Mr. Pompeo went to lengths to portray the apparently tit-for-tat detentions as totally unrelated to ongoing U.S. trade disputes with China.

Specifically, she pushed back against repeated questions from reporters about whether Canada felt it was being used as a pawn by either the U.S. or China.

Such questions have swirled this week since President Trump suggested he might attempt to meddle in the legal case surrounding Canada’s recent arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

While a Canadian court has released Ms. Meng on bail, she was arrested by Canadian authorities on request from U.S. officials, who are seeking to extradite her to the United States for trial on charges she used a Hong Kong shell company to do business with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Mr. Trump prompted outrage in Canada on Tuesday, when he told Reuters in an interview that he might intervene in the Justice Department’s case against Ms. Meng in order to appease China and increase the prospect of a breakthrough in tense U.S.-China trade negotiations.

“If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made,” Mr. Trump said. “I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”

With that as a backdrop, Ms. Freeland suggested Friday that Canada is determined to resist if Mr. Trump seeks to engage in such an intervention, or do anything that could affect the legal or extradition proceedings against Ms. Meng.

“The rule of law and extradition issues ought not ever be politicized or used as tools to resolve other issues,” the Canadian minister of foreign affairs said. “That is the very clear position which Canada expresses to all its partners.

“These kinds of issues ought not to be confused with each other,” she added.

At the same time, great uncertainty now hangs over the fate of two Canadian men detained this week by Chinese authorities.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the arrests of businessman Michael Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig was clearly a reactionary move by Beijing to Canada’s arrest of Ms. Meng.

Mr. Pompeo said Friday that he stands with Canadian officials in demanding the release of the two Canadian citizens.

The secretary of state spoke with reporters at State Department headquarters, where Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and Canadian Minister of National Defense Harjit Singh Sajjan were also present, following diplomatic talks between the two allies.

Mr. Pompeo and the others all sought to downplay the appearance of U.S.-Canada friction on any front, including that stemming from U.S.-China tensions.

Mr. Pompeo thanked Canada for helping the Trump administration’s pressure campaigns against Iran and North Korea, and for standing with Washington and NATO against Russian aggression in Ukraine. He also praised the Canadian government’s buying into the renegotiated NAFTA trade deal between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

“Of course, given the close relationship between the United States and Canada, disagreements will undoubtedly arise from time to time,” Mr. Pompeo said. “But our countries have always worked closely together to resolve these challenges including through regular, open dialogue. I’m confident that as any rough patches may emerge, we’ll continue to work through challenges.”

Ms. Freeland said the new U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreement is a “good deal for all three countries,” but she also expressed discontent with the Trump administration’s ongoing imposition of increased tariffs on Canadian steel entering the United States.

Ms. Freeland called the tariffs “unjust and illegal,” and said Canada simply does not agree with the administration’s argument that they are warranted by U.S. national security concerns.

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