U.S. pandemic diplomacy continues as Blinken meets virtually with Trudeau, Garneau

Pandemic diplomacy at work

The pandemic diplomacy at work between the United States and Canada is continuing, this time with the secretary of state.

Antony Blinken is visiting virtually with Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau as part of the Biden administration's post-Trump fence-mending campaign.

Blinken's "virtual trip" to Canada, which also includes a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, marks the secretary's first bilateral video conferences since taking office.

He says the good news is there's no jet lag, but the bad news is the lack of frequent-flyer miles.

Garneau and Blinken were expected to discuss the plight of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians who have spent the last two years in custody in China.

Trudeau says securing their release remains a top priority for the federal government and that the U.S. will play what he calls a "significant role."

"These are processes that are ongoing," Trudeau said Friday, refusing to elaborate on the details of what is likely to be a delicate diplomatic exercise.

"The United States is taking their role in this very seriously and we look forward to working with them on bringing the two Michaels home as soon as possible.”

Friday's visit follows up on Trudeau's own virtual summit this week with the U.S. president, which produced a "road map" for collaboration on issues like climate change, the economy and COVID-19.

"It's hard to think of two countries whose destinies are more connected, more intertwined than ours," Blinken told Garneau as their meeting got underway.

"We know that every single day, the work that we're doing, and more importantly the deep ties between our people — in virtually every aspect of our societies — are benefiting both countries."

Garneau returned the compliment, adding that Canada can be more to the U.S. than just a friendly ally.

"I want you to know that you can count on Canada to be by your side," he said.

"And I think that you'll find that we can be surprisingly helpful to you, while advancing our own objectives."

Spavor and Kovrig — known in Canada simply as the "two Michaels" — were swept up after the RCMP's arrest in December 2018 of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei.

On Tuesday, Biden vowed to work with Canada to secure their release, but offered no clues as to what specifically the U.S. is prepared to do.

Garneau, speaking French, made a point of thanking Blinken on Friday for the U.S. speaking out on their behalf.

Meng is due back in court Monday in Vancouver for an extradition hearing to determine whether she should be sent stateside to face fraud charges.

Earlier this month, Canada, the U.S. and a coalition of 57 other countries collectively denounced the state-sponsored arbitrary detention of foreign nationals for political purposes.

Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary for State's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said the U.S. supports that measure and backs Canada's demand for the release of Spavor and Kovrig.

"Human beings should not be used as pawns," she said Thursday. "We stand by Canada, our strong friend and partner, in the issues of arbitrary detention and for the release of the two Canadian citizens."

Earlier Friday, Blinken met with Mexico's foreign secretary and secretary of the economy during a "visit" to a port of entry facility along the southern U.S. border.

Efforts to fortify Canada-U. S. ties have continued, albeit virtually, along other departmental fronts all week.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson spoke Wednesday with John Kerry, Biden's special envoy on climate, to shore up plans for more stringent emissions-reduction targets in advance of a climate summit in April.

And Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra have committed to tougher vehicle pollution standards, and collaborating on new standards for aircraft and ships.

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