The standoff over the arrests has left Canada caught between its extradition obligations to Washington and an outraged Beijing, which has warned of unspecified consequences should Canada continue to hold Meng or take action against her company.
Canadian officials have stressed throughout that Meng’s case is a legal matter, not a political one — a message reiterated Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We will continue to pursue the extradition of defendant Ms. Meng Wanzhou, and will meet all deadlines set by the US/Canada Extradition Treaty,” said Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for the Justice Department, in a statement. “We greatly appreciate Canada’s continuing support in our mutual efforts to enforce the rule of law.”
News that the U.S. will meet a Jan. 30 deadline to request Meng’s extradition suggests the conflict over her case could stretch on for months, or even years, as Canadian courts consider the extradition case and process possible appeals.
It comes amid growing concern about the safety of foreign nationals in China.
On Tuesday, more than 140 academics and former government officials wrote an open letter to President Xi Jinping saying the detention of two Canadians in China worries academics and others about traveling to the country.
They called for the immediate release of the two men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who have been held without access to lawyers or family members since being arrested for “endangering national security.”
“We who share Mr. Kovrig’s and Mr. Spavor’s enthusiasm for building genuine, productive and lasting relationships must now be more cautious about travelling and working in China and engaging our Chinese counterparts,” the signatories wrote in the letter, which was first published in Canada’s Globe and Mail but sent to other media outlets, including The Washington Post.
“That will lead to less dialogue and greater distrust, and undermine efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground. Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result,” they wrote.
Signatories to the letter include former U.S. ambassadors to China Gary Locke and Winston Lord, and Evan Medeiros, the Asia director on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council.
The arrests come at a particularlydelicate moment for U.S.-China and, now, Canada-China relations.
President Trump was elected on a promise to take a tougher line with China and has spent much of the last year engaged in a tit-for-tat trade war with Beijing.
After Meng’s arrest, the president suggested he might be willing to make a deal to release her if China gave in to his trade demands.
Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, Chrystia Freeland, said Tuesday that the Canadian side has not asked the United States to drop her case.
“The detention of Ms. Meng is a criminal justice matter exclusively. We would object very strongly to the notion that it is being politicized or used as political leverage in any way,” she told Bloomberg TV in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Meng is under house arrest in her Vancouver mansion.
Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat who has been working as the China analyst for the International Crisis Group, an organization whose mission is to “build a more peaceful world.”
He was arrested in Beijing on Dec. 10 and has been held in a detention center, in solitary confinement with the lights on 24 hours a day. He has been questioned about his previous work as a diplomat, leading Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to say that Beijing was not respecting diplomatic immunity.
Spavor was based in Dandong, a city on the Chinese border with North Korea, where he ran Paektu Exchanges, an organization promoting cultural exchanges and business relationships with North Korea. A fluent speaker of Korean, he arranged one of former basketball star Dennis Rodman’s trips to North Korea and has spent extended periods with leader Kim Jong Un.
Spavor has been held in circumstances similar to Kovrig’s in a detention center in Dandong, where he is being interrogated about his work.
China appeared to up the ante last week when a court sentenced a Canadian man to death for drug smuggling.
Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, 36, was sentenced to 15 years in prison late last year after being convicted of trying to send methamphetamine to Australia. But in a one-day retrial last week, his sentence was changed to death.
Canada has been seeking international support for the men’s release, prompting the Chinese side to speak out against “microphone diplomacy.”
At a news briefing Tuesday, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, dismissed the open letter to Xi.
“They issued this letter to pile pressure on the Chinese side,” she told the media, according to the official transcript of the news conference. “Do they wish to see an open letter undersigned by the 1.4 billion Chinese people addressed to the Canadian leader?”
Rauhala and Nakashima reported from Washington.