Former Ambassador to China Defends Comments on Meng Wanzhou Extradition Case

Former Ambassador to China Defends Comments on Meng Wanzhou Extradition Case
Canadian Ambassador to China John McCallum responds to questions following his participation at the federal cabinet meeting in Sherbrooke, Que., on Jan. 16, 2019. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
Isaac Teo

Former ambassador to China John McCallum defended his comments that Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou has a strong case to fight extradition to the United States, and that his legal arguments to help her "were okay."

“I made some comments about how the burden of proof is lower for extradition cases, so that went against her. But I also commented on some of the legal arguments she might have, which I just picked up from the media. The case was not at that point before the courts, so I am not sure that what I said was inappropriate,” McCallum told the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations on Nov. 24.

McCallum was fired from his post by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last January after he was quoted by a StarMetro Vancouver reporter on Jan. 25, 2019, as saying it would be “great for Canada” if Meng’s extradition request was dropped by the United States, something which then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland said didn’t toe the government’s line.

Prior to that, in a press conference in Toronto on Jan. 22, 2019, McCallum had also told Chinese state-owned media including CCTV, Xinhua News Agency, and a select group of Canada-based Chinese-language media, that Meng has a strong case to fight extradition to the United States, and her extradition “would not be a happy outcome.” His comments were viewed as political interference by a government official in a case that is before the courts.

However, McCallum told the committee he regretted advising his former contacts at China’s Ministry of Foreign affairs in the summer of 2019 that any further “punishments” imposed on Canada’s exports could lead to a Liberal election loss. “Anything that is more negative against Canada will help the Conservatives, [who] are much less friendly to China than the Liberals,” McCallum told The South China Morning Post.

“The comment about the election I think was inappropriate,” McCallum said.

 Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at a parole office building in Vancouver on Dec. 12, 2018. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at a parole office building in Vancouver on Dec. 12, 2018. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Asked by Conservative MP Michael Barrett if he agrees there is a need to set up a registry to monitor the work of Canadians who serve foreign states, McCallum said he would comply if the registry exists, but doubts the usefulness of it.

“Right now, advice I give to Chinese companies is advice if they're seeking to invest in Canada and create jobs in Canada, but they're already subject to all the restrictions of Investment Canada Act, and also all the laws of Canada and provinces and cities and regulations. … I'm just not sure it gives additional information that would be useful to the government,” replied McCallum, who now works as a senior strategic advisor representing Chinese clients at law firm McMillan.

The urgency to set up a foreign agent registry is due to the growing threat Canada faces with regards to foreign influence and interference, particularly from China, according to David Mulroney, former Canadian ambassador to China, in his commentary titled Shining a Brighter Light on Foreign Influence in Canada.

Mulroney proposes former Canadian high-office holders, now paid by foreign states or companies to lobby or communicate on their behalf to influence Canadian government policy or public opinion in Canada, should be regulated and disclose their activities to the registry.

“It is not being alarmist to suggest that foreign countries continue to seek influence in Canada,” Mulroney wrote. “China’s Communist Party has well-developed mechanisms for influencing political opinion in foreign countries. This frequently involves the use of agents of influence in target countries.”

Australia and the United States have passed laws to curb Beijing’s increasing lobbying efforts.

When questioned if he had received gifts from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during his tenure as the ambassador, McCallum said he had “not received a penny” as “ambassador, as MP, or post-ambassador” from Beijing.

According to a 2018 Globe and Mail article, McCallum accepted over $73,000 in trips to China sponsored by the Chinese regime or pro-Beijing business groups between 2008 and 2015 during his time as a member of Parliament.
In a commentary on the topic, Scott Gilmore, a former Canadian diplomat and columnist for Maclean’s, wrote in an op-ed that “if any of the other Canadian diplomats in our embassy had accepted those trips, we would consider them compromised, and they would be fired.”

With regards to his previous engagement as a speaker with Wailian Group—a Shanghai-based immigration agency that helps people immigrate to Canada—that triggered cabinet critics to call on the ethics commissioner in July to investigate on possible conflict of interest, McCallum said that he “submitted evidence to the Ethics Commissioner and I had a conversation with the Ethics Commissioner. He agreed with me that I had done nothing wrong, that I had broken no rules, that he was not going to launch any investigation.”

“I gave a talk to some of their clients who were thinking about immigrating to Canada,” McCallum said.

But NDP MP Charlie Angus, also an ethics critic, wrote on Twitter in August that “John McCallum is a text book case as to why government should not give diplomatic posts to partisan friends. The Former ambassador to China is another high powered liberal who doesn't seem to think the obligations of the conflict of interest act applies.”

When asked by Bloc MP Stéphane Bergeron on why during his tenure as the immigration minister (Nov. 4,  2015 to Jan. 10, 2017), he authorised the CCP to set up recruitment agencies in Canada to recruit Canadian talents to China, McCallum said “I’m not aware of that.” When Bergeron followed up on what’s the CCP’s objective in recruiting Canadians, McCallum replied “I don’t know.”

The Globe and Mail reported in August that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has warned academics and research institutions of CCP’s Thousand Talent Plan, created in 2008, which seeks to attract scientists to China and get them to share “either willingly or by coercion, the results of work conducted and financed in Canada so that China doesn’t have to rely only on traditional intelligence-gathering.”

“How can Canada continue to do business with China in the same way, continue to have relations with China in the same way as before, when it's clear to everyone now that you cannot trust the Chinese Communist Party?" Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus asked.

“I think that the government is trying to find a good solution. It's true that we're going through a difficult period here. It's not easy to find the right answer,” McCallum replied, adding that “we want a relationship with the Chinese government.”

With files from The Canadian Press.