A Bid for Hostage Diplomacy With China Backfires in Canada

The letter circulated by Huawei Technologies Co. was blunt. Canada was becoming dangerously entangled in the diplomatic feud between Washington and Beijing, it said, and there was only one answer: for Justin Trudeau’s government to free the state-championed tech giant’s chief financial officer and let her go back to China.

It sounds like a warning from the Chinese government. In fact, the June 23 letter to the prime minister was signed by a who’s who’s of 19 prominent Canadians — among them a retired Supreme Court justice, a former attorney-general and several ex-cabinet ministers and ambassadors. Within 24 hours of it making headlines in Canada, Huawei executives were sharing the four-page note with journalists abroad.

The letter was meant to propose an answer to the plight of two Canadian men who’ve been accused by China of espionage and whose grim captivity for more than 18 months has left the nation aghast. Instead, it appears to have hardened Trudeau’s resolve, backed by an electorate that’s no longer in a mood to see the government cut deals with Xi Jinping.

A series of recent polls show public opinion in Canada is shifting against China. Policy is changing, too. Trudeau’s latest approach is a break with his own policies, and those of past governments, that focused on courting stronger trade and commercial ties. Last week, his government became the first to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong in response to China’s new security law.

Trudeau also rejected the idea of a prisoner swap for Meng Wanzhou — eldest daughter of Huawei’s billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei — saying an exchange would “demonstrate to China that they can just arrest Canadians and get what they want out of Canada.” Which can’t have been the result the pillars of the Canadian establishment that penned the letter had been expecting.

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