A lobster sits in a holding bin before having its claws banded by sternman Rob Tetrault II (rear) onboard the lobster boat “Wild Irish Rose” in the waters off Cape Elizabeth, Maine August 21, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

As tensions rise between China and the United States amidst their ongoing trade war, Canada remains wedged between the two superpowers as they leverage goods and political prisoners in a geopolitical tug-of-war.

Recently, the Canadian lobster industry and its $457M export market have been under pressure due to increased coronavirus testing imposed by China on imported perishables. The measures were instated after a salmon cutting board in the Xinfadi market was discovered as the source of a local outbreak by Chinese authorities. Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou have also established additional regulations that led to the cancellation of lobster shipments from Canada. Some live lobster shipments are being held for up to 36 hours while waiting for test results to come back, which means the live product must sit out of water for 36 hours. A Canadian Food Inspection Agency spokesperson stated, “There is currently no scientific evidence that food or food packaging is a likely source or route of transmission of COVID-19.”

Pro-Chinese Communist Party outlet the Global Times broadly denied Canada’s claims of political retaliation, arguing that Canada should conduct trade like Chile, who the outlet claims has a “mature, industrialized industry chain and is also cooperative with and respectful of Chinese regulations.” The piece also notes the strain these new trade regulations have placed upon Chinese and Canadian relations due to Canada’s arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou. The Global Times argued that her case should be “resolved quickly to avoid further damaging bilateral trade ties.” Meng was arrested in Canada in 2018 at the request of the U.S. for “undermining U.S. national security interests.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to intervene in Meng’s extradition case, arguing that doing so would “imperil” Canadians and legitimize political imprisonment. Shortly after the Huawei executive was taken into custody, Chinese officers arrested Canadian nationals Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in an act that has been criticized as “hostage diplomacy.” A group of 19 prominent Canadians signed a letter urging the Canadian government to halt its extradition case against Meng, arguing that they “believe that the two Michaels will remain in their Chinese prison cells until Meng is free to return to China.”

Amid the tensions between China and Canada, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum designed to protect the Maine lobster industry, which has been dealt a blow by increasing Chinese sanctions and restaurant lockdowns. White House trade advisor Peter Navarro told the press that tariffs on China would be a result of their failure to commit to the $150 million “purchase commitments” per the U.S.-China trade agreement. “If those purchase commitments are not met, the United States Trade Representative has been directed to use his discretion to impose … reciprocal tariffs on the China seafood industry,” said Navarro, who was recently dubbed the “lobster king” by President Trump. China’s growing middle class has recently developed a taste for Atlantic lobster, and the trade war has placed American lobster fisherman in a difficult spot as the conflict has redirected the booming lobster trade to Canada.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

‘Out of the blue,’ Trump directs trade offset aid to Maine lobster industry – Bangor Daily News – 6/24/20 China is one of the biggest export destinations for lobster, which are trapped in the Atlantic Ocean by U.S. and Canadian fishermen. But Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods resulted in retaliatory tariffs on U.S. lobster. Canadian lobstermen, not subject to the punitive tariffs, took control of the market to the frustration of Maine lobster exporters.

Chinese tabloid blasts Canada over lobster dispute – CBC – 6/25/20 Chinese authorities began random testing of imported food after a COVID-19 outbreak earlier this month was traced to a cutting board used on imported Atlantic salmon at the Xinfadi market in Beijing. […] Exporters must now also sign a Chinese customs declaration assuming liability if COVID-19 is detected. […] He’s leery of the Chinese legal system and dubious about the risk of the coronavirus, citing public health agencies in Canada and elsewhere that say there is no scientific evidence the virus is transmitted by food or food packaging.

Wife of Canadian detained in China urges Ottawa to end Huawei exec’s U.S. extradition – Politico – 6/24/20 Vina Nadjibulla and Michael Kovrig’s family are also applying new pressure on the Canadian government to halt the extradition of Meng Wanzhou, a Huawei executive whose arrest in December 2018 on U.S. charges infuriated Beijing. Days later, Kovrig, a diplomat on leave, and fellow Canadian Michael Spavor, a businessperson, were arrested in China. Last week, Chinese authorities formally charged the men with spying. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has denounced the moves as retaliation for the prosecution of Meng, the chief financial officer for the Chinese telecom giant.

Canada risks being outplayed in feud over citizens jailed in China – The Guardian – 6/23/20 Officials in Beijing are “mirroring” the ongoing extradition of Meng, and the latest escalation reflects Meng’s recent court loss, said David Mulroney, who previously served as Canada’s ambassador to China. While calls to strike a deal are tempting, especially with China’s willingness to target Canadian industry, Mulroney feels the costs are too high – and would legitimise “hostage diplomacy”. “We could release Meng – but it wouldn’t be the right thing to do. It would compromise the integrity of both our democracy and our justice system,” said Mulroney. “Our values – and our autonomy – needs to count for something,” he said. “What’s the price of that?”

Why CSIS believes Canada is a ‘permissive target’ for China’s interference – Global News – 6/24/20 Canada is an “attractive and permissive target” for Chinese interference that endangers the “foundations of our fundamental institutions, including our system of democracy itself,” according to a recent national security review. […] “Canada is kind of a sleepy and unaware target,” he said. “We don’t have the same kind of vigilance that you now see in places like Australia and New Zealand. That had better change.”

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, 6/24/20: Pres. Obama destroyed the lobster and fishing industry in Maine. Now it’s back, bigger and better than anyone ever thought possible. Enjoy your “lobstering” and fishing! Make lots of money!

Red Hook Lobster DC on Twitter, 6/24/20: The lobsters are so happy @realDonaldTrump wants to help us. Maybe he’ll make a donation to the #GoFundMe that we had to create for our employees because after years of prosperity under @BarackObama we’re now out of business. @chrislhayes

Harry Siegel on Twitter, 6/25/20: Trump tweeting about Maine’s lobster biz flashed me back to this @secupp classic on Rhode Island’s insane squid politics

Kenneth Roth on Twitter, 6/25/20: The Chinese government admits what everyone knows: that it is holding two Canadians hostage in an effort to secure the freedom of the Huawai CFO, who faces extradition from Canada under a US indictment. A shameless affront to the rule of law.

Latika M Bourke on Twitter, 6/25/20: Which China to believe? The China that said the arrest of the two Michaels had nothing to do with Huawei exec’s arrest in Canada or the China that now suggests the arrests are linked and furthermore could be exchanged?

Nikkei Asian Review on Twitter, 6/25/20: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is torn between critics who want him to stand firm and those who believe the priority should be securing two charged Canadians’ freedom.

Chad P. Bown on Twitter, 6/25/20: Lobster was a top Maine export, including to China. In response to Trump’s trade war, China put a 25% tariff on US lobster. Beijing also cut its tariff on lobster bought from Canada, Maine’s fierce rival. Canada’s lobster exports to China nearly doubled.

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