More than 100 former Canadian foreign service officers have reportedly urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to free Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, who is fighting extradition to the United States, in exchange for two Canadians being held in China.
In a letter to Trudeau dated Sept 15, Gar Pardy, Canada's former director-general of consular affairs, who helped organize the group letter, said direct negotiation with China was the "only way" to break the "impasse" and win the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were charged with espionage in China, The Globe and Mail reported.
He pointed out the dispute with China is hindering Canada's ability to deal with the rising Asian power directly and in other international affairs related to China.
"China looms very large in the scheme of things for everything that goes on in the world. If you don't have a relationship with China, there is not much of an ability to do anything," Pardy said in the letter.
This isn't the first effort by former politicians and diplomats to persuade Trudeau's government to seek a "prisoner swap".
On June 23, 19 high-profile Canadians, including former parliamentarians and senior diplomats wrote to Trudeau saying that Justice Minister David Lametti should end extradition proceedings for Meng to give Canada a chance to "re-define its strategic approach to China".
In that letter, according to CBC News, the former officials wrote: "Removing the pressures of the extradition proceeding and the related imprisonment of the two Michaels will clear the way for Canada to freely decide and declare its position on all aspects of the Canada-China relationship."
The officials said they believed that the minister has the right to withdraw the authority to proceed and end the extradition proceeding, which is totally at the discretion of the minister of justice.
Trudeau rejected the June proposal to free Meng in exchange for the detained Canadians.
Asked why Trudeau might reconsider a proposal that he has already rejected, Pardy said he retains hope that Ottawa might still accept it in some way. "I was in government for 40-odd years and I have known governments to change their minds," he told The Globe and Mail.
Some legal experts said it would be wrong for the government to intervene in a case before the courts.
Meng's defense team has sought classified documents in her fight against US extradition, saying that she was the victim of a conspiracy between the American and Canadian justice departments.
Cong Peiwu, China's ambassador to Canada, stressed that Meng's case is a serious political incident concocted by the US to suppress Huawei and other Chinese high-tech companies.
"There is growing evidence that proves the political nature of the incident, which has been recognized by more and more people of insight in Canada," Cong said during a webinar last week hosted by the Canada-China Friendship Society.
According to Cong, US conduct in the Meng case amounts to a "barbaric act of bullying" that goes against the basic norms of international relations. Canada has been taken advantage of by the US and acted as an "accomplice", he said, making Meng's detention the crux of current China-Canada relations.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin reiterated at a daily news briefing that China's position on Meng's case is clear and firm.
"The nature of the Meng Wanzhou case is entirely different from that of the cases of the two Canadians," Wang said, noting that Meng's case is a serious political incident, whereas Kovrig and Spavor are suspected of conducting activities endangering China's national security.
"The Chinese judicial organs handle cases independently, and the lawful rights of the two Canadians are guaranteed," he said.
Observers said Canada is caught in the crossfire between the US and China on many disputes.
Canada's top diplomat in China, Dominic Barton, last week called for greater ties with China.
"The weight of the world is shifting and has shifted toward Asia, so we need to do more in China. … It is a high time for the Canadian government to adopt a much firmer attitude with China," Barton said at an economic policy forum last week organized by the University of Alberta's China Institute.
According to Paul Evans, a professor in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, Canada has experienced an erosion of international rules that it relies on, and it is showing signs of neglect in the absence of effective leadership.
"The reason why Canada is so successful in the post-world era is because of rules it follows, but those rules are being fought and challenged now, and that's why Canada is in a difficult position," Evans said.