Critical Challenge for the U.S. | China and Canada-U.S. Cooperation
In September 2021, the Biden administration struck a deal with Beijing that returned Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou to China, and released Canadian hostages Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor from China to Canada. For 1,019 days the status of the “Two Michaels” was an obstacle to any improvement in Canada-China relations, and one of the most important issues in Canada’s bilateral relationship with the United States.
Canadian public opinion turned hostile to China during this period, and remains so. Yet Canadian public opinion also soured on relations with the United States during this crisis. Fairly or unfairly, many Canadians felt that in presenting an arrest warrant for Meng when her flight stopped in Vancouver, the United States exposed Canada to Chinese retaliation.
The Biden administration’s diplomatic resolution of the Meng and Michaels affair could lead to greater alignment on China policy in Ottawa and Washington in 2022. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking at the Wilson Center, stressed the importance of working together to: confront China on human rights; cooperate with China to promote trade and COVID recovery; challenge China’s aggressive moves against Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea and elsewhere; and collaborate with China to address climate change. It is an agenda that the Biden administration shares.
U.S.-Canada alignment on China would be a game changer. The success of U.S. leadership in the 20th century depended on middle powers like Canada that shared American aims and values and translated these into norms and principles of international law. Canada is one of the most effective countries in promoting global consensus, and might qualify today as a super-middle Power. Like many countries, Canada was reluctant to confront China and risk losing access to the Chinese market. China’s hostage diplomacy could prove to be one of the greatest blunders in modern Chinese history.
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