But while experts are applauding the U.S. for its role in getting the two Michaels home, the White House is distancing itself from the development.
“We have an independent Justice Department that made independent decisions, law enforcement decisions,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, speaking during a Monday briefing.
“At the same time, we have made no secret about our push to have the two Michaels released. That’s certainly positive news and good news.”
The two men’s freedom came just hours after Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou secured a deal with U.S. prosecutors to drop the charges against her — and the extradition order that had been keeping her in Canada since December 2018.
Despite the White House’s denials, a Canadian former foreign affairs minister is speculating that Biden is responsible for bringing the two Michaels home.
“Quite frankly, it was President (Joe) Biden that actually managed to to do this, because he had leverage that he was willing to use in negotiating the reduced charges against Meng Wanzhou,” argued former foreign affairs minister John Manley.
“So he had leverage. We didn’t and we still don’t.”
Former ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques expressed a similar sentiment.
“What I believe happened is that, while it’s true that there’s rule of law in the U.S. and the decision was made independently, there were communications between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping very recently,” Saint-Jacques said.
“And I’m sure that Joe Biden impressed on the Xi Jinping that if the two Canadians were not released at the same time, that there would be consequences.”
Though, he added, “maybe I’m wrong.”
“It’s not clear what kind of negotiations took place, but I still believe that we have to be grateful to President Biden,” Saint-Jacques said.
Just hours after the U.S. dropped the extradition order, Spavor and Kovrig were put on a plane home to Canada.
Still, China refuses to link the freeing of Spavor and Kovrig to Meng’s deal, instead citing “health” reasons for their return to Canada.
“The case of Meng Wanzhou is completely different from that of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in nature,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a daily briefing on Monday.
China released the two Canadians on bail after a “diagnosis by professional medical institutions, and with the guarantee of the Canadian ambassador to China,” Hua said.
Experts say it’s clear the two cases were intimately intertwined, and that Meng’s deal was clearly a catalyst for the freeing of Spavor and Kovrig.
“I think in the world’s mind, there’s no doubt that the two arrests are related and the releases are related,” said Wei Cui, a law professor at the University of British Columbia.
Manley echoed Cui’s remarks, arguing that without the release of Meng, there’s “no other way” the two Michaels would have been freed.
“Canadians should acknowledge and should be grateful that President Biden clearly made solving the Meng Wanzhou issue for China conditional upon the release of the two Michaels. There’s no other way this would have happened,” he said.
“Had they simply resolved it and let Meng go, I think the two Michaels would have spent perhaps a long time in China waiting.”
The Canadian government, meanwhile, has kept mum on the details of the push to bring Spavor and Kovrig home. Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau did, however, tip his hat to the U.S. administration during an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday.
“Some of these details will come out in due course. But we had always been very much engaged with the United States. I myself, with the Secretary (Antony) Blinken, the prime minister with the president — they realized how important it was for us to find a way to get the two Michaels home,” Garneau said.
“Our ambassador in China, Dominic Barton, was very engaged on the Chinese side.”
Garneau added that the entire thing “came together” when the decision was made in the U.S. courts to strike a deal with Meng.
“That was really the moment when we felt we had turned the corner collectively and that enabled the return of the two Michaels,” he said.
Kovrig also briefly spoke with Global News. While he didn’t share details of the lead up to his freedom, he said he’s thrilled to be home.
“I am so delighted to be back home with my family and to be back in Canada. And I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with friends and family and finally getting out and seeing all the beauty of Canada,” he told Global News in an interview.
“I am immensely happy and thank you so much.”
Kovrig’s story has a happy ending, but there are still 115 Canadians detained in China — including Robert Schellenberg.
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China sentenced Canadian Robert Schellenberg to die after a hastily scheduled retrial of his drug smuggling conviction in China — just one month after Meng’s arrest. The government has repeatedly called for clemency in Schellenberg’s case, but so far it has not been granted.
Manley warned that, as things stand now, “we have no leverage left.”
“I think the Chinese were surprised at the degree to which we were able to mount broader international pressure from other heads of government, of allied nations to raise the Michael issue,” he said.
“That’s not going to happen with these other cases, whatever their merits may or may not be.”
— with files from The Canadian Press