Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has fired his country’s Ambassador to China, John McCallum. The apparent reason for the firing is that John McCallum performed one of the duties that is central to the role of any diplomat. Among the key roles played by ambassadors, is to help and contextualise the domestic political rhetoric, policies and developments in one’s nation in such a way that one’s hosts can understand a more nuanced truth that lies behind the political bluster. As former high school drama teacher Justin Trudeau has a penchant for political bluster, clearly, Canada’s global ambassadors must be particularly busy as of late.
A good diplomat is able to minimise the potential for bilateral rows in the aftermath of a dispute or disagreement by effectively explaining that ‘things are as bad as they look’ whilst offering further assurances that there is a clear, legal and doable way out of any impasse.
In spite of the odds being stacked against him, former Canadian Ambassador to China, John McCallum did just that when he said the following to a reporter regarding Canada’s continued detention of Meng Wanzhou. When asked about the possibility of granting the US request for Meng’s extradition, McCallum suggested that Meng stands a good chance of fighting extradition in a Canadian court on the following grounds:
“One, political involvement by comments from Donald Trump in her case. Two, there’s an extraterritorial aspect to her case. And three, there’s the issue of Iran sanctions which are involved in her case, and Canada does not sign on to these Iran sanctions.
So I think she has some strong arguments that she can make before a judge”.
In making these statements, McCallum did everything a Canadian diplomat should have done to assuage Chinese anger over the disturbing treatment of its citizen on Canadian territory. First of all, by stating that there’s a good chance that a Canadian judge might rule in favour of Meng, McCallum invoked diplomatic language to try and convey to China that Canada’s judicial system is not as corrupt as it might look from the outside, as clearly Meng’s kidnapping, arrest and subsequent detention made many in China fear that Canada’s courts are little more than kangaroo courts. McCallum did all he could to paint a different picture of Canadian justice and thus acted as a genuine ambassador for his nation.
Secondly, by referencing Donald Trump’s self-professed meddling in the case, McCallum has told his Chinese friends a reality that Justin Trudeau has yet to acknowledge – not only is Meng’s ordeal politicised, but it is one of the most heavily politicised arrests of the 21st century. This is not contradicting the Canadian Prime Minister as such but it is merely restating an open fact in a diplomatic fashion that Trudeau seems unwilling to admit for clearly party political reasons. Diplomats are not politicians and because of this, it is requisite for diplomats to offer statements guided more by realism than those made by elected officials who often chase votes as readily as some mythical creature might chase a rainbow.
Finally, by stating that unlike the US, Canada has sided with the rest of the wider world and remains in favour of the JCPOA (aka Iran nuclear deal), any alleged connections between Meng’s business activity and Iran is completely immaterial from Canada’s legal perspective, as Ottawa has not signed up to, nor does Canada support Donald Trump’s re-imposed sanctions on Iran. In this sense, Canada, China, Russia and the European Union are all on the same page. By pointing this out, McCallum helped to illustrate an area of geopolitical common ground between Beijing and Ottawa at a time when there appears to be none.
Fundamentally, diplomacy is about developing a bilateral understanding that is both honest and flexible in terms of working with a foreign partner to resolve disputes in the most amicable way possible – even in the most dire of circumstances. As such, John McCallum’s job was clearly a difficult one as Canada’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister recklessly ruined otherwise normal relations with China by so brazenly marching to the US drummer in respect of depriving a Chinese businesswoman and mother of her most fundamental human rights.
Diplomacy does not involve learning the traditional dance moves of a foreign culture, nor wearing the traditional clothing of a foreign nation. Diplomacy is keeping calm under pressure, making assurances that can be delivered in order to solve a problem and being honest rather than evasive during a time of crisis. In this sense, it is clear that John McCallum knows what diplomacy is and Justin Trudeau simply does not. Frankly, Canada’s governing Liberal Party would be far better off by removing Trudeau from its leadership, rather than having Trudeau remove McCallum from his post as Canada’s Ambassador to China.