12/13/2018 18:25 EST | Updated 12/14/2018 09:53 EST

Scheer Says Canadians’ Detention Shows PM’s ‘Naive Approach’ With China

The situation is no place for "partisan plays," said Chrystia Freeland's office.

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer holds an end of session news conference in the Foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa on Dec. 13, 2018.

OTTAWA — The detention of two Canadians by Chinese authorities is evidence that the Liberal government's "naive approach" with China isn't working, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told reporters Thursday.

Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor are being held on suspicion of "endangering national security," according to China's foreign ministry. Their detention comes after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou by Canadian authorities in Vancouver on Dec. 1.

"Canada needs to unite around this issue and send a clear message to the Chinese government that it is completely unacceptable that a Canadian citizen on Chinese soil is being used in this way," Scheer said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not engaged in direct talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the past two weeks, HuffPost Canada has learned. Prime Minister's Office spokeswoman Chantal Gagnon said the two leaders saw each other at the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires and have not been in contact.

Meng's arrest has put Canada in the middle of growing trade tensions between the U.S. and China.

American authorities are seeking extradition so Meng can face fraud allegations related to alleged violations of international sanctions against Iran. The allegations have not been proven in court.

Canada-China talks need to be 'elevated': Scheer

Scheer said the situation merits a need for diplomatic discussion between Canada and China to be "elevated." The impetus is on Trudeau to "act very early on this" and send a high-level message to the Chinese president, he said, but did not specify what that message should be.

"We now found ourselves in a situation where we have Canadian citizens on foreign soil and detained — and a government that has pursued a policy of appeasement, putting us in a position where we don't have the leverage that we might otherwise have," he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's office said the department takes "any situation of a Canadian under duress abroad extremely seriously."

Such situations involving Canadians in difficulty should never be the subject of partisan plays.Foreign Affairs spokesman Adam Austen

Spokesman Adam Austen said Canadian officials continue to be in direct contact with Chinese authorities, but due to Privacy Act provision, Foreign Affairs can't divulge further information about Kovrig and Spavor's cases.

Freeland's office expressed displeasure over Scheer's comments about the detentions being a reflection of Canada's "naive" foreign policy with China.

"Such situations involving Canadians in difficulty should never be the subject of partisan plays," Austen said in an email to HuffPost Canada.

Trudeau travelled to China last year but returned home without a formal agreement between the two countries to begin formal free trade talk negotiations.

Talks reportedly hit a snag this spring with disagreement over "progressive" elements proposed by Canadian counterparts, but each country's outlook for a deal has been for the most part hopeful.

'There was no political involvement'

The foreign affairs minister said Wednesday that Canadian officials have been in regular contact with Chinese authorities about the situation.

Canada's ambassador to China, John McCallum, has also been in touch with the Chinese government "on more than one occasion" about the issue.

Canada's extradition process is rooted in the pursuit of justice and following the rule of law and "Ms. Meng was arrested pursuant to Canada's extradition treaty with the United States," Freeland said.

"There was no political involvement," she added.

Earlier, the prime minister disclosed he had received advance notice from the RCMP about their intention to arrest Meng.

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer, leaves her home under the supervision of security in Vancouver on Dec. 12, 2018.

On Thursday, China's ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye criticized the Canadian government for displaying "unreasonable behaviour" over Meng's arrest and release on bail.

In an op-ed published in The Globe and Mail, Lu accused Canada and members of the Five Eye countries of concocting a smear campaign against Huawei that has "sown fear and misled" the people about the company.

Huawei dogged by cyber espionage claims

Huawei is a Shenzhen-based company and is the largest telecommunications equipment manufacturer in the world. Concerns about Huawei devices allegedly being used in cyber espionage has dogged the company for years.

Australia recently banned Huawei from the country's 5G network citing concerns about espionage raised in an intelligence report.

Meng was released on $10-million bail earlier this week. The Huawei executive is currently in Vancouver, where she and her husband own two houses.

She must be under 24-hour surveillance and has to wear an electronic ankle bracelet as part of her bail conditions.

The extradition case will likely take months as it moves through the B.C. courts. Meng's next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 6.

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