MONTREAL • Canada’s ambassador to China has resigned after a series of diplomatic missteps that further complicated already strained relations between the two countries.
The resignation came days after the ambassador, Mr John McCallum, stunned seasoned diplomatic observers by saying that Ms Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei who was arrested last month by the Canadian authorities in Vancouver at the United States’ request, stood a good chance of avoiding extradition to the US.
His public assessment of the sensitive and high-profile case came under sharp criticism, including from the leader of the opposition conservative party, Mr Andrew Scheer, who said Mr McCallum’s comments threatened to politicise the case and called for him to be fired.
“Last night, I asked for and accepted John McCallum’s resignation as Canada’s ambassador to China,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last Saturday.
Mr McCallum had back-pedalled last Thursday, saying that he misspoke. But a day later, following a news report quoting him saying it would be “great for Canada” if the US dropped its request to extradite the Huawei executive, he was once again under fire.
Canada is in the middle of a struggle between China and the US, two countries engaged in a protracted trade war.
Canada has vowed not to intervene politically in the Huawei case, which is pending in Canadian courts, making Mr McCallum’s comments all the more awkward. An angry China has characterised Ms Meng’s arrest as an abuse of power by the Canadian authorities.
ASKED TO RESIGN
Last night, I asked for and accepted John McCallum’s resignation as Canada’s ambassador to China.
PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU
Canada arrested Ms Meng in Vancouver on Dec 1. On Dec 10, China seized two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and tour operator Michael Spavor, on national security grounds.
Ms Meng is under house arrest at her US$4.2 million (S$5.7 million) mansion in Vancouver, while Kovrig and Spavor remain in custody and have received only rare visits from Canadian officials, including Mr McCallum.
A third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, was sentenced to death by a Chinese court after initially receiving a jail term for alleged drug smuggling.
Mr Trudeau has called the Chinese arrests “arbitrary” and urged Beijing to release Kovrig and Spavor. The US and a broad group of former envoys and academics have also called for their release.
The US is expected to formally request Ms Meng’s extradition from Canada in the coming days. It has until Wednesday to make the request.
Once made, Canadian courts will decide whether she can be sent to the US, with a final determination made by Canada’s Justice Minister.
Mr McCallum, a seasoned politician, is known to speak his mind.
A former academic, he has held a series of senior positions in Liberal governments, including as defence minister and as Mr Trudeau’s immigration minister.
He played a leading role in Canada’s decision to welcome thousands of Syrian refugees to the country.
The Huawei case also has an economic dimension for Canada that has strained relations with the world’s second-largest economy.
Canada is reviewing whether to ban Huawei from its next-generation 5G wireless network, a move already taken or under consideration by some allies. Mr Ward Elcock, a former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said last Thursday he believes Huawei poses a risk to Canada’s 5G network because of China’s ability to “direct” the company.
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