The ugly messy truth about the two Michaels is that we must get past our indignation, however justified, over China's gross violations of all international norms. If we don't, they won't breathe fresh Canadian air until the 2030s, nor will any of our other citizens currently held by China.
The Xi Jinping regime will not bend or give ground until the Meng Wanzhou proceedings are terminated, whether by Canada or the United States.
We can holler until we're blue in the face, but it's time to face up to this grim reality.
For decades, successive governments around the world have wrestled with the challenges of negotiating for hostages with a host of unsavoury regimes. Leader after leader has publicly disavowed the practice, while covertly doing the opposite.
From (“I will not negotiate with terrorists”) Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama to Donald Trump, many American presidents have traded prisoners with hostile regimes. Israel gave up over a thousand Palestinian and Arab prisoners in exchange for a single Israeli soldier held by Hamas.
Even after the IRA launched an unsuccessful assassination attempt on British prime minister John Major and his cabinet in 1991, the British government maintained a back-channel of communication that ultimately led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
As recently as 2019, Donald Trump swapped an Iranian scientist in exchange for a U.S. prisoner held on espionage charges by Iran for more than three years. The scientist, Masoud Soleimani, faced far more serious charges of violating the U.S. sanctions on Iran than the allegations against Meng Wanzhou.
Barack Obama twice traded hostages during his administration. Once with the Taliban, and once with Iran.
Now that it's Joe Biden's turn to do a solid for Canada by dropping the charges against Meng to facilitate the release of Canadian prisoners, the geo-political calculations have suddenly darkened. At this juncture, it would probably be considered a favour to Biden for the Canadian government to refuse America's extradition request.
Let's start here.
It's now a matter of life or death. The hour has come to cut a deal, writes @Garossino. #MichaelSpavor #MichaelKovrig #MengWanzhou #China
What is most central to understand about the Meng case is that this is not a normal U.S. Department of Justice criminal prosecution. Meng Wanzhou is not charged as part of a broad crackdown on commercial crime, or to protect HSBC, the bank she allegedly victimized (no innocent in these affairs).
In international criminal terms, her conduct is decidedly small potatoes. But that's not why she's on the indictment at all.
Meng is charged purely for geo-political gamesmanship. She is part of an overt U.S. strategy to escalate costs to China for its rampant cyber-piracy. Specifically, China's relentless hacking, pillaging and espionage of American intellectual property and national security apparatus, including by the People's Liberation Army.
Preventing Huawei from providing broadband services or equipment in the United States became a top priority of the American government.
Recognizing America's extraordinary vulnerability to cyber-attack, the national security branch of the U.S. Department of Justice developed the tactic of charging and extraditing Chinese nationals wherever possible, and with particular focus on Huawei.
This approach, developed during the Obama administration by former U.S. assistant attorney general for national security John Carlin and laid out in his book Dawn of the Code War, was explicitly premised on a calculation of China as a rational actor that could be deterred from its state sponsorship of cyber-espionage.
There's just one problem. It failed spectacularly.
Confronted with this DOJ manoeuvre, Xi Jinping doubled down. Not only were Canadians abducted in retaliation, but China's rogue action online exploded.
Just last month, the White House issued a statement attributing the stunning spike in global ransomware attacks to China. Incredibly, the Xi Jinping government stands accused of partnering with organized crime networks in fraud, theft and extortion attacks around the world.
“Hackers with a history of working for the PRC Ministry of State Security (MSS) have engaged in ransomware attacks, cyber-enabled extortion, crypto-jacking, and rank theft from victims around the world, all for financial gain,” said the Biden government.
Even worse, China and Russia have announced a pact to work together in a bid for control of cyberspace.
It's quite apparent that the Americans are, at least for the moment, bewildered, and relations with China are at a nadir. None of their plans have moved the dial a centimetre, except to go backwards. Canadians are imprisoned, and one, Robert Schellenberg, is under a death sentence.
In meetings with senior State Department officials, China has stipulated that Meng's release is a sine qua non of any further diplomacy. Yet under existing circumstances, Biden can hardly afford to climb down on her charges.
Further, she has now been detained (albeit in a mansion, but nonetheless away from family and home) for longer than she'd be sentenced, if she could be convicted at all. And Huawei is dead in the water in Canada. It will have no position anywhere among the Five Eyes allies.
So at this point, almost three years into this gambit, the Meng prosecution is a dead letter. Her case is a burden to every country involved in this. To say nothing of the imprisoned Canadians.
It's really all about pride and political capital.
Which is why, if Justin Trudeau gets his second majority government, he would do best to follow the footsteps of many leaders before him.
It's time to cut the deal and bring the Michaels home.