Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien leaves the stage after addressing well wishers at a reception celebrating 25 years since he was elected to his first term as prime minister in Ottawa, Thursday, October 25, 2018. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)
Jean Chrétien is willing to go to China to negotiate an end to Canada’s diplomatic impasse with Beijing if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asks him, according to the former prime minister’s spokesman.
“If the Prime Minister asks Mr. Chrétien, he would be prepared to go to China to serve Canada at this difficult time to help our farmers and bring our two Canadians home,” Bruce Hartley tells CBC News.
Canada has been without an ambassador in China since John McCallum was fired in January after he made public comments concerning the ongoing court case against Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou.
The statement follows former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney’s suggestion this week that the Trudeau government consider enlisting a former prime minister to lead a high-powered delegation to China to fight for the release of detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
“What they might want to do is take a look at sending over someone like Jean Chrétien, who has a lot of respect of the Chinese,” Mulroney told The Canadian Press.
Chrétien’s son-in-law André Desmarais, deputy chairman and co-CEO of Montreal’s Power Corporation, is also the honorary chairman of the Canada-China Business Council.
Desmarais “is held in extremely high regard by the Chinese and probably knows more about China than any other living Canadian that’s not in public life,” said Mulroney.
“You could put a delegation together led by former prime minister Chrétien and a few others, but mostly Chrétien and Andy Desmarais, and go over there and sit down with people Jean has grown up with in politics, who hold senior positions, leadership positions, in the government of China and say, ‘Hey, let’s get this done.'”
Chrétien’s China ties
Kovrig, a diplomat on leave to work for a non-governmental organization, and Spavor, an entrepreneur, are under arrest in China facing allegations of espionage and endangering national security. Canada has called their imprisonment arbitrary and has whipped up international condemnation over their cases.
Michael Spavor, left, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, right, have been formally arrested in China, following months of detention. (Associated Press/International Crisis Group/Canadian Press)
Many former diplomats and China-watchers see their plight as retribution for Canada’s decision to arrest Meng on an extradition request from the U.S.
China also has blocked some Canadian canola shipments and is cracking down on other Canadian agricultural exports.
Ottawa won’t comment about the prospect of sending Canadian envoys to China.
“This is not the first time we’ve been asked the question, but we don’t have any announcements planned or decisions planned in the near future,” Trudeau’s spokesman Cameron Ahmad told the Canadian Press.
In his post-political life, Chrétien has remained engaged in China-related issues in his work with the law firm Dentons. In April 2016, he made headlines when he met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
“Premier Li noted that China-Canada relations developed into a ‘golden decade’ during Mr. Chrétien’s administration, and that China appreciates Mr. Chrétien’s contributions to promote the development of China-Canada relations,” said a statement accompanying a photo of the two men warmly shaking hands, on the website of the Chinese government’s State Council.