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

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

Vancouver Island Indigenous leaders supportive of B.C.’s new plan for old forest preservation

More than 260,000 hectares in Clayoquot Sound mapped for immediate old growth harvesting deferral

HISTORY COLUMN: Reflecting on the 32nd anniversary of Canada’s apology to Japanese-Canadians

Japanese-Canadians an integral part of Tofino and Ucluelet’s history.

Extravagant marriage proposal in Ucluelet

“It was such a dream. He brought a dream to life. No one does this anymore.”

Missing mushroom picker found “alive and well” after three-day search in Ucluelet

“It’s always great to have a positive outcome like this.”

B.C. records 98 more COVID-19 cases, most in Lower Mainland

One new senior home outbreak, Surrey Memorial outbreak over

Vancouver Island Tour de Rock riders roll into Parksville Qualicum Beach

Saturday’s schedule includes Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino, followed by Nanaimo on Sunday

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

$250K reward offered as investigation continues into Sea to Sky Gondola vandalism

Police also asking for specific footage of Sea to Sky highway around time of incident

Most Read