John McCallum fell victim to Beijing’s ‘influence campaign,’ say former ambassadors

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VANCOUVER—Former ambassador John McCallum’s break from Ottawa’s official messaging suggests Beijing was employing strategies from a “well-honed playbook” designed to sway ambassadors into representing state-friendly perspectives, say experts in foreign affairs.

While not illegal or necessarily sinister, the practice of “gaming” envoys and businessmen by playing to their egos with the illusion of “special access” is a tried-and-true method to subtly draw foreigners into alignment with the political aims of the Communist Party of China, said James Palmer, editor of Foreign Policy Magazine.

“China has a habit of singling out individuals … for its own influence campaigns,” Palmer said in an interview.

Palmer lived in China for 15 years, during which time he worked as a journalist and historian.

“They attempt to basically woo them, and they have a very good playbook for wooing them … And it’s not even about ideological or financial compromise, it’s about playing psychologically to these guys.”

Meng, who is currently on bail in Vancouver, appeared in B.C. Supreme Court on Tuesday following a formal extradition request from the United States the day before.

The U.S. government announced nearly two dozen criminal charges against Huawei Technologies on Monday, accusing the company of technology theft, bank fraud, obstruction of justice and money laundering. Allegations of “bank fraud, wire fraud and conspiracies to commit bank and wire fraud” were levelled against Meng personally for statements provided to one of Huawei’s major banking partners about the company’s operations in Iran.

McCallum had initially been forced to walk back comments that Meng’s legal counsel had good reason to argue the charges against her were politically motivated. The message was a stark break from the line previously held by Canadian officials, who almost unanimously stood by the legal process as legitimate and independent.

He announced his resignation on Saturday after repeating the comments a second time, following his initial retraction, to The Star.

Missives in the Global Times and China Daily — news organizations with ties to the Chinese state — depicting McCallum’s exit as confirmation of the illegitimacy of Canada’s legal process are a further indication the former ambassador was viewed as an ally by Beijing, said Palmer.

“They clearly saw McCallum as an asset, as somebody who they very successfully wooed through this program,” said Palmer, who worked for Global Times for seven years.

Jorge Guajardo, who served for six years as Mexico’s ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, agrees. The same strategies described by Palmer, he said, were used against him during his time in Beijing.

Guajardo emphasized he doesn’t know McCallum or have any special window into his motivations in this case. But when he first heard McCallum’s comments, Guajardo reports having immediately recognized the earmarks of a campaign of influence by Beijing.

“Having been there, (I thought), ‘I know why he’s saying those things,’” he said. “Because they game you, in a sense.”

Whereas newly posted foreign ambassadors in Western countries are typically put in touch with government officials of all stripes, when a foreign ambassador first arrives in Beijing, they are given zero access, said Guajardo.

Then slowly, over time, ambassadors are told particular, high-ranking Communist Party officials wish to meet with them because they’re “special” and “obviously” have a unique understanding of the nuance and delicacy of the party’s position, he said.

“And they keep playing up this idea that you’re special (by granting the same access) any ambassador would get in any other capital,” Guajardo said in an interview.

The mind-game of cultivating an envoy as a “special friend” to China who believes he has singular access to — and understanding of — the country’s political inner-workings is key to ensuring the diplomat will become an ally in Beijing’s efforts to see its interests taken up abroad, he said. And this relationship becomes especially useful during periods of dispute between China and an ambassador’s home country.

“This is typical Chinese playbook: to convince the ambassador from a foreign country that his country is not acting correctly, and that ‘of course’ he understands that they’re not acting correctly, and, ‘I’m telling you as a friend because I like you and I don’t meet any other ambassadors,’” he said. “And they start getting into your head that way.”

McCallum was the first elected official appointed as a head of mission to China — a post that dates back to the establishment of a Canadian embassy in Beijing in 1971. Previous to his appointment in 2017, McCallum was a Liberal member of Parliament for over a decade-and-a-half, serving as a federal minister under three different prime ministers.

Without commenting on McCallum’s situation specifically, former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney confirmed Guajardo’s account.

“China is amazingly successful at convincing people, including seasoned diplomats, that the most important thing in the world is maintaining good relations with China,” Mulroney said in an email. “By this they generally mean not commenting or otherwise reacting to something egregious that China has done.

“They persuade people by playing to their vanity, making them believe that their unique understanding of China is evidenced by their ability to keep things calm and untroubled. They do this because it works — for China.”

Mulroney’s analysis echoes Guajardo’s summary of the underlying issue: that Beijing views foreign diplomats as outgoing communication channels, rather than resources to develop an understanding of foreign countries.

What the world lacks, Guajardo recounts being told by officials in Beijing, is a nuanced understanding of China. And developing that understanding for the world is what Communist Party officials believe the work of a foreign ambassador should be, he said.

Every diplomat wants to contribute to better relations between capitals, he said. And no one wants to pick a fight with foreign officials. But operating as a conduit for messaging from a foreign capital is antithetical to the purpose of ambassadorial work, he said.

“You want to have the Chinese ambassador to Mexico explaining China to the Mexicans, and you want the Mexican ambassador to Beijing explaining China to the Mexicans? Who is supposed to explain Mexico to China?” he said.

“They are so invested in explaining themselves to the outside world that they have no energy left to understand the outside world … and they don’t care.”

With files from Michael Mui and Tonda MacCharles

Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter covering community issues and Canada’s drug policies. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer

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Trudeau sidesteps ambassador’s comments about strength of defence in Meng case

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OTTAWA – Justin Trudeau says he expects the Huawei executive Canada arrested last month will mount a defence to avoid being extradited to the United States but would not say whether he thinks she has a good case.

The prime minister appeared to be sidestepping remarks by his envoy to China that there are strong legal arguments Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou can make to help her avoid extradition to the United States.

John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, says there are strong legal arguments Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou can make to help her avoid extradition to the United States.
John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, says there are strong legal arguments Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou can make to help her avoid extradition to the United States.  (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

“We have always highlighted that Canada is a country of the rule of law, and we will make sure that the rule of law is properly and fully followed. That of course includes the opportunity for her to mount a strong defence,” Trudeau told reporters in Saskatchewan.

“The strength of our justice system is people get to mount their own defence. I know she will do that.”

On Tuesday, John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, told Chinese reporters in the Toronto area there were several arguments Meng’s legal team can make in her defence.

She was arrested Dec. 1 by Canadian authorities in Vancouver at the behest of U.S. authorities, who have alleged she used a Huawei subsidiary to evade sanctions against Iran.

He was speaking to Chinese reporters Tuesday in the Toronto area, and listed several arguments Meng’s legal team can make in her defence.

Meng’s arrest has put Canada in a deeply uncomfortable position between two sparring superpowers, which are also its two largest trading partners. As a result, the Canada-China relationship has deteriorated in recent weeks and Beijing has warned Ottawa of serious consequences unless she is released.

McCallum said her lawyer could argue that there has been possible political involvement following recent comments by U.S. President Donald Trump. Last month, Trump raised questions about the basis of the extradition request by musing in an interview with Reuters about intervening in Meng’s case if it would help him strike a trade deal with China.

McCallum also said she can argue against the extra-territorial aspect to her case and the fact the fraud allegations against Meng are related to Iran sanctions, which Canada did not sign onto.

“I think she has some strong arguments that she can make before a judge,” McCallum said during his opening remarks to reporters.

In the days that followed Meng’s arrest, China detained two Canadians. Michael Kovrig, a Canadian diplomat on leave, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur, on allegations of engaging in activities that have endangered China’s national security. They remain in Chinese custody.

China also sentenced another Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, to death in a sudden retrial of his drug-smuggling case. He was originally sentenced in 2016 to a 15-year term, but the court delivered the new sentence last week after reconsidering his case.

Western analysts believe the arrests and the death sentence are part of an attempt by Beijing to pressure Canada into releasing Meng.

The Chinese government has insisted Meng has done nothing wrong — and has pointed out that she hasn’t broken any Canadian laws.

McCallum, who used the opportunity to speak with Chinese journalists to explain how Canada’s extradition law works, also said he was aware the Meng case had personally upset Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I do know that President Xi Jinping was very angry about this and so others in the Chinese government have taken the lead from him, and I don’t know exactly why,” McCallum said.

“Maybe it’s because Huawei is a national flagship company of China. It’s not just any company, it’s a special Chinese company. So, maybe that is why he is so angry.”

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Former ambassadors and academics urge China’s president to release Canadian men

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OTTAWA—More than 100 former ambassadors and prominent academics specializing in China and Asian affairs are appealing directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping for the release of two Canadian men who the Trudeau government says are being “arbitrarily” held by Chinese state security forces.

In an open letter published Monday, a copy of which was sent to the Star, 26 former ambassadors to China and 115 scholars from around the world say they are “deeply concerned” about the detentions and say it sends a chilling message to all who want to build bridges with China.

The letter comes as Beijing moved to soften its tone a week after its ambassador to Canada warned the Trudeau government it would face “repercussions” if it banned Huawei, the Chinese corporate giant that wants to play a key role in developing Canada’s 5G networks, the next generation of high-speed wireless networks.

Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokesperson, told reporters Monday that Ambassador Lu Shaye “did not mean that China intends to interfere in the decision-making of the Canadian government.”

She said Huawei “is a leading supplier in the 5G technology, so losses are inevitable if Huawei is not chosen as a co-operation partner,” later adding “We have been reasoning with the Canadian side, not threatening it.”

Nevertheless, the Chinese spokeswoman talked tough and accused Canada of “irresponsible” remarks and “microphone diplomacy” in its efforts to rally international allies to protest the men’s detention.

She disputed Canada’s claims that the leaders of Germany and Singapore have publicly supported Canada’s position, saying neither made public comments.

Canada’s allies have made varied statements of support.

But the letter published Monday by former diplomats, including five past Canadian envoys, and many others shows more than 140 Western experts on China speaking with one voice. Hua dismissed it Monday, according to a transcript posted on the foreign ministry website.

“I wonder who these western scholars and officials are and how much do they know about the real situation regarding the cases of the two Canadian citizens,” she said, adding foreign citizens are welcome in China. “As long as they abide by Chinese laws and regulations, there is nothing to worry about.”

Chinese state security officials arrested the two separately after Canada arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, wanted by the U.S. for allegedly lying to skirt American sanctions on Iran.

The Chinese government is rebuffing Canada’s calls for the men’s release. Beijing says the Canadians are being held on suspicion of “activities endangering China’s national security” but they have not been charged.

“Many of us know Michael Kovrig through his work as a diplomat in Beijing and as the senior expert for northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, an organization whose mission is to ‘build a more peaceful world’,” the letter reads.

“In both roles, Kovrig regularly and openly met with Chinese officials, researchers, and scholars to better understand China’s positions on a range of important international issues.”

“Michael Spavor has devoted his time to the task of building relationships between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China, Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere.”

Spavor had co-ordinated sporting and cultural trips into North Korea through his China-based business and made headlines when he worked as a fixer for former NBA superstar Dennis Rodham’s trip to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Read more:

China’s ambassador accuses Canada of ‘backstabbing’ in arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou

Chinese police prevent Canadian woman from returning home on connecting flight through Beijing

Trudeau enlists Trump to seek release of Canadians detained by China

The one-page appeal, in English and Chinese, says that kind of on-the-ground engagement is the foundation of serious research and diplomacy.

It says their detentions “send a message that this kind of constructive work is unwelcome and even risky in China.”

It cautions that people who share “Kovrig and Spavor’s enthusiasm for building genuine, productive, and lasting relationships must now be more cautious about traveling and working in China and engaging our Chinese counterparts.” That leads to less dialogue and greater distrust “and undermine(s) efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground.”

“Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result,” the signatories wrote.

Among the group are six former ambassadors to China from Canada — Fred Bild, Joseph Caron, David Mulroney, Earl Drake, Guy Saint-Jacques and Rob Wright. It is also signed by former envoys from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Sweden, and Mexico, two former U.S. deputy assistant secretaries of state, and former foreign ministers from the U.K. and Australia.

The letter “respectfully” asks the Chinese president for the “immediate” release of the two Canadian citizens “so that they may be reunited with their families.”

One Canadian signatory, Joseph Caron, ambassador to China from 2001 to 2005, said he signed the letter “because it was the moral thing to do,” but declined further comment.

David Mulroney, who was Ottawa’s envoy from 2009-2012, said the letter is signed by a list of people “who have spent decades learning about China and trying to understand and interpret it. China has an interest in being better understood.”

He said it should remind people that “this is more than a Canada-China dispute.”

“Many people, from many places, are worried about the extent to which China is closing itself off, and punishing those who have struggled to understand it and explain it to others.

“China typically succeeds by isolating countries and punishing them, while others look on in silence. Sweden has just experienced this, and now we are, too. By broadening the discussion about what’s happening, we make it harder for China to bully smaller states.”

Last week, Beijing’s ambassador in Ottawa Lu Shaye signalled the Chinese government has no intention of intervening in what is now an investigation led by state security forces. He said that as the investigation “deepens and advances” the charges would be made “clear” and “specific.”

Lu insisted China is taking “compulsory measures” under law against the men. He contrasted that with Canada’s detention of Meng which he called “groundless” because she has broken no Canadian law. Meng is out on bail, restricted to remaining in Vancouver where she lives at one of her two mansions pending her extradition hearing. China wants her set free immediately.

On Sunday, newly appointed federal Justice Minister David Lametti said officials in his department, not him, will decide the next step, which is whether to issue the “authority to proceed” to put the U.S. case against Meng before a Canadian judge.

Under a bilateral treaty, the U.S. has until Jan. 30 to produce its documents or “record” of the case to Canada’s justice department’s international assistance group, which then has 30 days to review the package.

If all is in order, the justice department officials would grant the authority to proceed and its lawyers would argue on behalf of the U.S. before a Canadian judge that the U.S. has produced documents that meet the legal threshold to have Meng extradited to face fraud charges. A Canadian court judge will decide if indeed the U.S. has produced enough evidence that would have been sufficient to send Meng to trial if the conduct had occurred here, but doesn’t pronounce on guilt or innocence. Then it’s up to the justice minister to decide whether to surrender Meng to be extradited, taking account of legal and political factors.

“I will only intervene after a court decision to extradite with respect to the execution of that decision,” said Lametti.

“So in terms of the process I will stay away from the process in order to not be tainted if I do have to make a decision one way or the other,” Lametti told reporters Sunday.

The ex-diplomats’ and academics’ letter comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues his efforts to speak to other national leaders about Canada’s concerns in the affair.

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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Canada’s ambassadors urging allies to push for release of Canadians detained in China: Freeland – National

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Canada’s ambassadors around the world are launching a concerted campaign to pressure allies to push for the release of two Canadians detained in China, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Saturday.

In a teleconference call with reporters, Freeland said Canadian ambassadors would reach out to their counterparts to discuss the “arbitrary detention” of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, which she said set a “worrying precedent.”

“I will continue in the coming days, along with Canada‘s ambassadors around the world, to be speaking with foreign counterparts about this issue,” Freeland said. “Our ambassadors… will be speaking directly in an organized effort with their counterparts.”

READ MORE: Chinese official slams Huawei exec’s arrest in response to question about Canadian detentions

The United States, United Kingdom and European Union have expressed their support for Canada, but some countries are yet to comment publicly.

Kovrig and Spavor were detained in the wake of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou‘s arrest in Vancouver earlier this month. Meng was arrested at the behest of U.S. authorities, who want her extradited there to face charges of fraud.

Freeland reiterated that Meng, who has been granted bail in Vancouver, has been given “full access to due process” in her legal proceedings.

WATCH: How tension between Canada and China will impact Canadians







Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was personally involved in the situation, Freeland said, although she declined to say if or when Trudeau would pick up the phone and call Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“We continue to be in discussion with China,” Freeland said. “This is clearly a difficult moment in our relationship with China. It’s important to keep on talking and raising the issues directly with them.”

WATCH: China questions Canada’s treatment of ‘illegally detained’ Meng Wanzhou







Freeland’s remarks came a day after the Canadian government issued a written statement saying it was “deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities” of Kovrig and Spavor, and formally demanded their release.

— With files from Reuters

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Ambassadors from Canada and U.S. launch town hall meetings to allay USMCA fears

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Mounting concerns on both sides of the border are prompting the U.S. and Canadian ambassadors to meet with businesses in the wake of a new trade deal between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

In an interview with CBC Radio’s The House, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft said she and her Canadian counterpart, David MacNaughton, will embark on a series of town hall meetings to assuage fears from investors over the USMCA.

Craft also relayed a message for Canadians.

« I understand your frustrations, » she said of the fallout from sometimes fractious trade talks, while standing in the famous University of Kentucky athletics centre named after her coal magnate husband, Joe Craft.

The tensions created by the upheaval of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the birth of a new provisional pact (called the USMCA by U.S. President Donald Trump) have ignited uncertainty among investors.

Craft explained she and MacNaughton will travel around Canada and the U.S. speaking to cross-border industries and small businesses about the USMCA in an attempt to let them know the governments are listening.

The current plan is for two meetings each month, starting in December.

‘It’s not finished yet’

Touted as a solid deal for Canada by Trudeau government officials, Trump also hailed the USMCA as a big win for the new era of « America First. »

While both governments sort out the details and look for ways to use the deal to beef up their eventual re-election campaigns, businesses are still confused by what this means for them.

The USMCA still is not a « done deal, » said Ed Webb, the president and CEO of the World Trade Centre Kentucky. « It’s not finished yet. »

Canada is Kentucky’s largest foreign trading partner, with exports totalling almost $8 billion a year — more than the state’s next two largest partners combined.

But many investments have been halted until the new trade deal comes into effect and stability is re-established. That’s frustrating businesses in Kentucky  — and beyond. 

We need to be patient, we need to trust this will change.– U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft

The state was also carefully targeted with retaliatory tariffs on products such as steel, playing cards and bourbon after Trump’s spring announcement that Canada would be subject to steel and aluminum tariffs.

Imposed by the U.S. administration on national security grounds, steel and aluminum tariffs became intertwined with the NAFTA negotiations, but Canadian officials failed to secure an exemption in the new text of the USMCA.

For the ambassador, it’s about playing the long game.

« We need to be patient, we need to trust this will change, » she said.

« The tariffs will at one point lessen. »

Car concerns

It’s not just the retaliatory tariffs Kentucky is concerned about. As in Canada, the possibility of a future bite from 25 per cent tariffs on autos is a staggering thought for the car industry in the Blue Grass state, which swaps millions of vehicles and parts across the northern border every year.

« We’re definitely concerned about how it affects our business with Canada, » Bruce Breitholle, the vice president of business operations at ATech, a company that builds training modules for auto manufacturers, told The House.

That concern was so overwhelming that it overtook the conversation at a business dinner Breitholle attended at the Kentucky Governor’s residence last month. The discussion quickly shifted to reassuring the Canadian attendees there was no animosity and that the Canadian market is a keystone of life in the southern state.

ATech automotive builds training modules for vehicle manufacturers. The company is concerned about what the USMCA will mean for their industry. (Elise von Scheel/CBC News)

ATech’s anxieties confirm the fears of Janet Harrah, a trade professor at Northern Kentucky University. She explained business is up in the state, but much of the growth is likely just inventory that was built up in anticipation of long-lasting tariffs — and that will harm Kentucky.

« If the cost of doing business here gets too high, people go somewhere else to do business, » she said.

Though the president has given Canada an exemption on auto tariffs — for now — it doesn’t come without conditions. If the U.S. moves forward with the imposition of worldwide Section 232 national security tariffs on autos, those would also apply to Canada.

Ottawa has effectively scored a temporary exemption, because Canada would still be able to export cars and parts tariff-free up to a certain amount well above what Canada currently sends south of the border.

Laura Dawson, Director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center speaks with CBC News Network about the new USMCA. 7:31

Even if the auto sector escapes punitive tariffs, the remaining steel and aluminum duties will drive up the cost of vehicles.

Cars are Kentucky’s biggest export to Canada. Auto manufacturing employs nearly 95,000 people in the state, according to the Kentucky Automotive Industry Association. The sting of new auto tariffs would be felt on both sides of the border, as about 130,000 jobs in Canada are based on vehicle manufacturing.

The Trump factor

As the U.S. leader throws jabs at Canadian officials, some in Kentucky’s business community expressed their embarrassment at the president’s behaviour.

« We don’t want to be seen as that big bad country, » Breitholle said.

« That’s the arrogance coming from way at the top. »

Despite the strain created by more than a year of negotiations, both Webb and Breitholle were optimistic no permanent damage would be dealt to the Canada-U.S. relationship.

The economic impacts, however, will be unavoidable.

How that trickles down and when those consequences will hit is the next big worry, Webb cautioned.

The USMCA still has to be approved by Congress, and ratified by all three North American nations.

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