We've swapped their Meng for our Michaels and everything's back to normal, right?
Probably not. Getting back to a pre-December 1, 2018 normal isn't likely to ever happen, at least not while China is governed by the Communist party and we are a liberal democracy. The oceans of difference we tried to ignore before the Meng Wanzhou arrest and response are just too big to continue to ignore, and they've grown much wider. Not only are there hurt feelings on both sides over actions taken by the other over the past three years, but the frail myth that China was evolving into something that the Western world could perceive as "like-minded" has fallen to pieces.
We're going to get back to business-as-usual as much as we can, but we learned a lot from the diplomatic crisis, both good and bad. Here are some of my takeaways:
• Trade with China will always carry an extreme political risk.
The extreme reaction of China to the arrest of Chinese corporate executive Meng Wanzhou on a legitimate U.S. extradition request and its willingness to attempt to bully Canada into submission reveal a China that doesn't just not follow international rules-following norms, it doesn't even care about appearing to try to be a rules-following nation.
The speedy arrest of Michaels Kovrig and Spavor showed just how crudely China would abuse its legal process to got tit-for-tat, and the specious reasonings for its banning of some Canadian canola and pork exports highlighted that reality. The simultaneous release of the Michaels from China following Meng's release bring back a lot of memories of the Cold War, and that seems a much more likely future for China and Canada than that of a steadily deepening relationship. We can do lots of business, but across a wall.
• China will do what it needs to to get the food and resources its vast population and economy need.
Canadian canola and pork continued to find ways to China during the dispute, as have Australian resources during that country's multiple disputes with China. There's a lot of drama involved in these sorts of diplomatic disputes, but behind the scenes people on both sides try to keep basic interaction going, and that helped a lot of agricultural trade carry on. China isn't going to starve itself or send its economy into a recession just to make a point. Its leaders are too smart for that.
• China isn't all-powerful.
Faced with a (to it) truculent Canada and determined U.S. Justice Department, China attempted to bully small, weak Canada into submission. The hostage diplomacy and agricultural embargoes were part of that. The strategy failed, as Canada's government did not cave-in and interfere in the legal process. This deal, where Meng goes home after admitting guilt, isn't a victory for China or the U.S. One of China's corporate heroes is tarnished, while the U.S. doesn't get a big, showy trial highlighting Huawei's allegedly nefarious actions. But it's a victory for Canada, which stuck to its guns and prevailed. For all the victory speeches being made in China this weekend by its media, it's hard to believe its government and diplomatic leaders aren't looking back ruefully on a campaign that has damaged China's standing and turned former friends against it, while achieving little.
• The U.S. came through for Canada.
Canada was always a sideshow in this dispute, which pitted the U.S. government against a Chinese corporate player. Almost all the pain felt for the arrest following the U.S. extradition request for Meng was felt by Canada, and I imagine that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the rest of his government spent much time hoping that the U.S. would just resolve the thing somehow. However, putting Meng on trial would have been a major statement that the U.S. Justice Department seemed to want to make. Who knows why the U.S. settled? But it did settle, and the deal clearly involved releasing the Michaels, which must have taken some tricky negotiating, considering that China has always said their arrest had nothing to do with Meng. The U.S. seems to have settled this right by Canada, and we owe them thanks for that.