OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will lean on the power and influence of the mercurial Donald Trump to raise the issue of two detained Canadians during a bilateral meeting with the Chinese president at a G20 summit in Japan this week — something the U.S. president publicly committed to doing at “Justin’s request.”
The summit comes at a critical moment for Trudeau, just months ahead of the October election and as Canada continues to push for the release of the Canadians in China — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
Earlier this month in Normandy, France, Trudeau said he was looking forward to attending the G20 and that the ”opportunity to engage with the Chinese president directly is certainly something that we are looking at.”
So far, however, no such meeting has been confirmed by the Prime Minister’s Office. Trudeau’s staff will only say they expect to have information soon on which leaders Trudeau will meet in Osaka, where key themes include the global economy, trade and investment and innovation.
Trump pledged his support during a meeting with Trudeau last Thursday in the Oval Office, where the two leaders sat together in bright yellow armchairs and the president vowed to bring up the issue in a sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Are you trying to get a meeting?” Trump asked of Trudeau in response to a reporter’s question, to which the prime minister replied: “We’ve got a lot of things to discuss. ”
“Anything I can do to help Canada, I will be doing,” Trump said.
Trudeau needs that assistance.
The detentions of Kovrig and Spavor are largely viewed as retaliation for the December arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver, where she awaits extradition to the U.S. to face allegations of fraud in violating Iran sanctions.
David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said it should not come as a surprise that China is not interested in a meeting between its president and the prime minister.
Trump will be Canada’s best shot to address the issue of the detentions, said Mulroney.
“That would be the strongest card that could be played in our interests,” he said.
“It would be an American card played to say … ‘If you want a normal relationship with us, you’ll leave our allies alone.’”
Mulroney said he would also use the G20 to talk to other leaders who face similar challenges with China and are susceptible to its bullying.
“If we can build this sense of shared purpose in pushing back against China, in not allowing ourselves to be isolated like this, that’s a big step forward,” he said.
“It is in America’s interest and it is in the interest of a lot of other countries to see China pull back from hostage diplomacy and bullying… The only way to counter that is through collective action and that is a long, hard slog.”
Christopher Sands, the director of the Center for Canadian Studies at John Hopkins University, said Canada doesn’t play offence very much but he agreed it would be advisable for Canada to talk to other leaders about the detained Canadians.