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March 9, 2019

We should swap for Meng

Reuel S. Amdur

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Canada is holding Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese bigwig, for possible extradition to the United States. The U.S. wants to try her on charges alleging that business interests controlled by her firm Huawei are trading with Iran in violation of U.S, sanctions. In retaliation, China has arrested two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, charging them with endangering national security. China has also increased Canadian Robert Schellenberg's sentence for drug offenses to capital punishment.

What does China get from this deal?  The promise of due process does not cut it with the Chinese government.  And what about Celil?

Hamilton Imam Huseyn Celil, a Canadian citizen, has been imprisoned by China for 11 years.  He and his family went to Uzbekistan in 2006 to visit his wife’s family.  Because of his role in standing up for the rights of his Uighur minority, China asked the Uzbeks to extradite him, and they did.  Canada has asked for his release, but not in conjunction with the Meng case. 

It is very clear that China will not be impressed by legal niceties.  Telling China that Meng will be dealt with in accordance with legal due process makes absolutely no impression.  In the end, the Canadian government will decide on extradition even if the court authorizes it.  It could have acted even before now.  

Releasing Meng and returning her to China will make the U.S. government unhappy, but Canada must consider its own interests.  In dealing with China, legal niceties do not cut it.  The approach Canada should take should be to model the U.S. position on the Cold War spy swaps.  Meng for Kovrig and Spavor—and Celil.  Either add Schellenberg to the swap or cancel the death sentence.

Insistence on standing by the rule of law in this situation is simply naïve.  That is not how China is playing it.  One is reminded of Immanuel Kant’s dictum: Let justice be done, though the world perish.  (Fiat justitia, et pereat mundus.)

While Canada’s approach is useless and counterproductive, equally disturbing is the lack of voice in this case by Canada’s Muslim community.  If instead of an imam the Canadian held were a rabbi, the Jewish community would raise a howl that would shake the rafters in Ottawa.  The wheels would roll to get the swap.  There are twice as many Muslims in Canada as there are Jews.  Where are the Muslim voices speaking out for one of their own religious leaders?

If the court rules for extradition and Canada carries it out, we will have missed a golden opportunity to get Celil freed.  Instead, we will suffer whatever retaliation China chooses, possibly the execution of Schellenberg.  No telling what will happen to the two Michaels.

Let us add just note one other bizarre fact.  Government officials have urged a travel agency to stop cautioning travelers about the danger of visiting China.  Showing more good sense than the Canadian government has done, the travel agency is standing by its guns.

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