Canadian and U.S. officials had secret talks in April to facilitate the release of two Canadians in China

Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, spent three weeks in Washington in early April and negotiated with senior U.S. officials in the Biden administration to facilitate the release of two Canadians detained in China, according to a June 7 report in Canada’s Globe and Mail.

Three sources told the newspaper that Baudamin’s secret visit to Washington included discussions about a possible U.S. deferred prosecution deal for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, which could lead to the return to freedom of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who are being held by the Chinese. The sources declined to discuss details of the negotiations on the deferred prosecution agreement due to the sensitive and confidential nature of the case. However, the sources insisted that the talks between U.S. and Canadian officials included a broader call for the United States to take stronger action to pressure the Chinese government to release the two Canadian citizens, who have been held for 910 days.

One source noted that Baudamin received a promise from senior U.S. officials to increase pressure on Beijing. During his stay in Washington, he reportedly met with officials from the U.S. National Security Council, Justice Department, State Department, Defense Department, Treasury Department and Commerce Department. Baudamin also reportedly held talks with Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai.

The report mentioned that in late 2020, the U.S. Justice Department and Huawei discussed a plea deal that would have allowed Meng to return to China, a move that could have led to the release of the two Canadians from China. But the negotiations appear to have stalled, and it is uncertain whether Baudamin will be able to resume them when he speaks with Biden administration officials in Washington in April.

A source described how Baudamin, who was sent to Washington at the behest of Prime Minister Trudeau rather than communicating through the Canadian ambassador to the United States, did not believe a deferred prosecution agreement could be reached. That is why Baudamin’s overall mission was to convince the Biden administration to use its influence and gain the support of other allies to convince Chinese leaders that Beijing’s hostage diplomacy would lead to a serious deterioration of China’s global image, the source added.

When the U.S. and Canadian leaders met last February, Biden pledged to participate in facilitating the release of the two Canadians mentioned above. Let me reiterate our support for securing the release of Spavor and Kang Mingkai, the two Canadians detained in China,” Biden said at the time. Human beings are not bargaining chips. You know, we’ll work together until we get them back safely.” The report said Baudamin was recalled to Ottawa in late March for talks with Trudeau and senior government officials. Earlier, Canada joined the United States, Britain and the European Union in calling for sanctions against Chinese officials over human rights issues in Xinjiang.

Canadian officials told the newspaper at the time that Baodamin had been recalled from Beijing to attend a key strategy meeting on sensitive issues with China; they declined to discuss further details. Canadian officials said in March that they thought it was likely the U.S. Justice Department would negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with Huawei that would allow Meng to return home while the company pays a hefty fine. Any agreement would require Meng to admit his wrongdoing. A U.S. federal court in the Eastern District of New York would have to approve such a deal.

The U.S. Department of Justice has the authority to withdraw the extradition request and arrest warrant. Even if Meng is allowed to return as part of the U.S. deal, experts on China say the two Canadians are unlikely to be released immediately. A more likely scenario is that China will wait at least two months before deporting them, possibly after a Chinese court rules on espionage charges.