Experts say Ottawa shouldn’t expect Beijing to do it any favours and free Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in return for medical co-operation on the coronavirus. Kovrig (left) and Spavor are shown in these 2018 images taken from video. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP

China won’t release ‘two Michaels’ in return for coronavirus help: experts

Global Affairs Canada said it had shipped about 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment to China,

Ottawa shouldn’t expect Beijing to do it any favours and free the “two Michaels” in return for medical co-operation fighting the new coronavirus, experts say.

China’s ambassador to Canada hinted at that last week and Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says he’s used every medical discussion with China to raise the plight of the two men.

Champagne told reporters in Ethiopia on Sunday that he’s had more access to his Chinese counterparts in recent weeks and he uses the occasions to push for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been in Chinese prisons without charge since December 2018.

They were arrested in what is widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s decision to arrest Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from the United States.

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, says that while it is good for Champagne to keep pushing, Canada’s assistance on the coronavirus simply isn’t contingent on what China can do for Canada.

“Anything that opens up the channels of communication is a good thing, and we should use the conversation to raise all of our priorities,” he said.

“We don’t play games when people are sick, and we shouldn’t allow China to play games with us. Freeing the Michaels isn’t a favour or quid pro quo; it is what we expect of law-abiding states.”

Bessma Momani, an international-affairs expert at the University of Waterloo, says China wants only one thing — Meng released — and so-called health diplomacy will not change that.

“I hope I’m wrong,” she said.

“Why would Champagne say that? It’s kind of raising hope. So, it makes you wonder,” she said. “But at the same time, what would the Chinese get out of doing this? To them, Meng is a really important person … They don’t want to be seen as giving in.”

Meng is the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei.

READ MORE: Second Canadian plane bringing Wuhan evacuees home, foreign minister says

Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat who has served in Beijing, said the Canadian efforts on the coronavirus might bear fruit.

“China is a gift giving culture. Any gift accepted creates reciprocal obligation in the recipient. So, I judge that China requesting medical aid from Canada could well lead to concessions in the negotiations over the release of Kovrig and Spavor,” said Burton, of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute think-tank in Ottawa.

In an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press last week, Cong Peiwu, China’s ambassador to Canada, praised the federal government’s co-operation in combating the outbreak of the coronavirus and suggested that might useful in repairing the diplomatic rift between their countries.

“Anything that your side has done and will be doing in the next few weeks in our fight against the disease, of course, that’s much appreciated, and that’s good,” Cong said.

“We would like to strengthen this kind of scientific co-operation with the Canadian side. Of course, we are grateful for what Canadians have been doing in sending medical supplies to China. That is also very much appreciated.”

Global Affairs Canada said it had shipped about 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment to China, including clothing, face shields, masks, goggles and gloves, in the last week.

READ MORE: Canada ready to offer more help to China amid coronavirus outbreak, Trudeau says

Champagne said he believes it is important to keep lines of communication open when dealing with China on “the two Michaels.”

“I’ve been very clear that while we’re dealing with the coronavirus with the Chinese authorities that the foremost priority is to bring the Michaels back home. Every time I have a chance to talk to my Chinese counterpart, every time there’s a dialogue, obviously we bring that issue (up),” Champagne said Sunday in Addis Ababa.

“The more you talk, the more you can certainly try to build a bridge that is needed in order to strengthen or to restore a relationship.”

— with files from Mia Rabson in Addis Ababa.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Some Cowichan schools to reopen for children of essential-services workers

Cowichan Valley will open 8 elementary schools this week

Residents urged to stay close to home over the holiday weekend

Time to be extra vigilant during the COVID-19 crisis

Vandekamp moving on from Cowichan Capitals

Head coach returns to AJHL’s Grande Prairie Storm

Not to become bored the game plan for COVID-19

Board game developed by Crofton family just the remedy for filling time at home

Nanaimo, Royal Jubilee to be Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 frontline hospitals

Other Island hospitals will be admitting COVID-19 patients and will be used in a support role

COVID-19: 4 new deaths, 25 new cases but only in Vancouver Coastal, Fraser Health

A total of 1,291 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

Long list of events disrupted by COVID-19 around the community

Challenging situation affecting fundraisers, entertainment, sports and more

Air Canada says it will apply for wage subsidy to rehire workers after cutting 16,500 jobs

Air Canada said March revenues fell by more than 30 per cent year over year

Canadians urged to include pets in their COVID-19 emergency plans

That includes plans about who will care for them if the owner is hospitalized

COVID-19: Don’t get away for Easter weekend, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

John Horgan, Adrian Dix call 130 faith leaders as holidays approach

COVID-19 world update: Joy in Wuhan as lockdown lifted; Pope denounces profiteers

Comprehensive update of coronavirus news items from around the world

COVID-19: Trudeau says 30K ventilators on the way; 3.6M Canadians claim benefits

Canada has seen more than 17,000 cases and at least 345 deaths due to COVID-19

Comox spring training cancelled for Snowbirds next month

The team announced that due to ongoing travel restrictions they will not be training in the Valley

Some Cowichan schools to reopen for children of essential-services workers

Cowichan Valley will open 8 elementary schools this week

Most Read