Increasingly aggressive actions by China that violate the rule of law must be called out, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State says.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus would not say what steps the U.S. is taking to try to uphold a pledge by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to push China to release the two Canadian citizens it has detained.
But she said in addition to work “behind the scenes,” the U.S. believes there is value in calling the country out publicly.
“Words are important and shining light on bad behaviour is important because you have to call that out and name it and shame it when it happens,” she said.
Canadian officials have urged the U.S. administration to speak out more forcefully in support of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who Beijing detained in December 2018 and have been holding without access to legal services ever since.
The seizure of the two men came just days after Canadian border officials detained Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S., which charged both her and her company the next month with 23 counts of corporate espionage and skirting sanctions on Iran.
While Chinese officials have repeatedly linked the cases, Pompeo last week rejected the suggestion that they are in any way comparable given Meng was detained in accordance with the longstanding extradition treaty between Canada and the U.S.
Meng is currently fighting against extradition in a B.C. court.
WATCH: Pompeo says U.S. made it clear with China that detaining Canadian citizens is ‘inappropriate’
Ortagus called the issue of securing the release of Kovrig and Spavor “incredibly important.”
“I think the secretary was very clear that this is an incredibly important topic because what we’re talking about as it relates to the two detained Canadians is the rule of law, and this has ramifications not just for Canada but this has ramifications for countries around the world,” she said.
“Clearly the Chinese see an opportunity when they can find it to arbitrarily detain people, to beat up on countries that they may perceive to be weaker in their estimate and so what’s incredibly important for America is that we’re standing up for our allies, that we’re standing up for our friends, but most importantly for that we’re standing up for international norms and the rule of law.”
China challenged Pompeo’s pledge to work for the two detained Canadians on Friday, saying the U.S. has no right to interfere.
In-person talks between the U.S. and China are expected to take place next month as the two countries continue to engage in a trade war.
U.S. President Donald Trump also raised the detention of the two Canadians with Chinese President Xi Jinping last month at the G20 Summit in Japan.
Last week, Canada suspended all travel into China for the local staff at its consulate in Hong Kong.
That came after China also detained a British consulate worker more than two weeks ago and accused him of soliciting prostitution.