Toronto, Ontario (CTV News) — U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has the power to help free detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, after Donald Trump “didn’t exactly help,” says former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd.
In an interview with CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Rudd says Liberal democracies need to work together when China takes action in a “punitive nature outside the rules of, let’s call it, international trade law.”
In the case of Spavor and Kovrig, the Biden administration could offer “a new set of opportunities.” The detention of the two Canadians is widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from the United States.
“If the United States Department of Justice, particularly under this new administration, was to redefine the alleged offenses of Madam Meng as a civil offence rather than a criminal offence, suddenly the requirement for criminal extradition of Madam Meng from Canada to the United States disappears,” Rudd says.
“And if that disappears under those circumstances, there’s an opportunity for high-level diplomacy to ensure that Madam Meng’s release occurred simultaneously with the release and repatriation of the two Michaels.”
In recent weeks, the Biden administration has moved to review many of Trump’s policies toward China.
In his first call with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Feb. 10, Biden raised “fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan,” according to a statement from the White House.
Rudd said that middle-power countries can be targets if China feels it needs to defend its interests, and Canada is only a recent example.
“This is a Marxist-Leninist system which doesn’t operate by the same rules as many other states, and it’s now a very powerful country in military and economic terms,” Rudd says.
“So, when China deals with smaller powers and middle powers, which have in Beijing’s calculus crossed China on key questions of national interest and national values, there’s a certain psychology which takes root in Beijing. The Chinese expression for it is ‘kill one to warn 100.’”
To counter that, Canada must work with its allies.
“The one thing about Marxist-Leninists is they do respect power, and therefore it’s very important in dealing these sorts of pressures for like-minded liberal democracies to work together, rather than separately,” says Rudd.
Rudd helped manage tensions in the Asia-Pacific region during his time as prime minister, and is now the president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. He said that navigating tensions with China can be like wrestling a “1,000-pound gorilla in the front living room.”
“Remember, it’s the world’s second-largest economy,” he said. “It’s the largest trading power on the world. The largest importer in the world, the largest exporter in the world, the largest manufacturer in the world. And increasingly, one of the largest sources of foreign direct investment.” Rudd said.
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