Canada Hails ‘Positive Step’ in Bitter Detainee Feud With China

(Bloomberg) -- Justin Trudeau’s top diplomat said a meeting with her Chinese counterpart marked tentative progress in Canada’s dispute with Beijing over the fate of a top telecom executive facing U.S. extradition.

The nation has seen two of its citizens detained and much of its agricultural trade with the Asian giant disrupted for months after it arrested Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.’s chief financial officer on an American request last December.

Canada Hails ‘Positive Step’ in Bitter Detainee Feud With China

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland raised Canada’s concerns about the two men, a former diplomat and an entrepreneur who are being held by Chinese authorities on national security grounds, when she met Wang Yi on the sidelines of a regional summit in Thailand last week.

“It was a positive step that we were able to have a formal bilateral meeting with the Chinese foreign minister in Bangkok and we did commit to continuing the conversation and to keep the lines of communication open,” Freeland said Tuesday in Toronto.

She refused to detail any specifics of her conversation about Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were seized by Chinese state security shortly after Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s detention on a layover in Vancouver. The two men are being held in trying conditions with limited access to consular officials, while Meng is living under house arrest as her legal team attempts to put a halt to her extradition in a U.S. sanctions case.

Canada finds itself caught in the crossfire between Donald Trump and China, with the U.S. president at one point musing that Meng could be freed if Beijing made concessions on trade. In addition to detaining the two men, China halted imports of Canadian meat in June and has been refusing shipments of canola since March.

“This is certainly a challenging relationship and so I think it’s really important for us to be able to have these conversations in private,” Freeland said during a joint press conference with new U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Venezuela Crackdown

Asked whether the Trudeau government would follow Trump’s lead in imposing an effective economic blockade on Venezuela, where Nicolas Maduro is clinging to power despite an international push to unseat him, Freeland was noncommittal. “In terms of the U.S. measures, we are looking at them closely,” she said. “We do have a very strong set of sanctions currently in place against the leaders of the Maduro regime.”

Canada has been working with the so-called Lima Group of Latin American nations since the start of year, who back National Assembly chief Juan Guaido’s claim to the presidency of the oil-rich South American country. The Trudeau government sees its work on Venezuela as central to its foreign policy agenda, much of which has been blown off course by the dispute with China.

The Canadian prime minister made a personal overture to Cuba in May, hoping to persuade the communist government to play a constructive role in resolving the political crisis in Venezuela. Matching the Trump administration’s latest crackdown on Caracas would likely complicate Canada’s ongoing negotiations with Havana on the issue.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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