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Trump viewed Canada as political pawn in trade issues with China: Bolton

Former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton says it was “true” that U.S. President Donald Trump viewed Canada as a political pawn in trade dealings with China — though he said the president was the only one in Washington who viewed it that way.

Bolton made the comment in response to a question from CTV Question Period Host Evan Solomon, airing Sunday.

Tensions between Canada and China plunged into a deep freeze following Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in December 2018. Canadian authorities arrested Meng in Vancouver after the United States requested her extradition.

Meng’s lawyers have been arguing that Trump poisoned the extradition case when he said he would “certainly intervene” if he thought it were necessary in order to secure a trade deal with China.

During the interview, Solomon asked Bolton whether the extradition case shows Canada was being used as a “political pawn” in the trade issue between the two giants.

“Within the whole U.S. government, that was true in the mind of one person, one person only: Donald Trump,” said Bolton in response.

“A Canadian court, after extensive proceedings, has agreed that our extradition request has met the dual criminality standard that’s a prerequisite for extradition…there’s only one person in the United States, I think, who doesn’t understand that and I think in a few months he won’t be president anymore.”

As the extradition case has continued to play out in Canadian courts, Canada has paid the price in the form of much chillier relations with China.

Canada’s arrest of the executive infuriated China, which subsequently arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig in what the Canadian government has described as retaliation — though China insists otherwise. China also briefly banned the import of Canadian beef and pork, blaming it on a banned animal feed additive they claim was found in a shipment of Canadian pork.

“The U.S. asked for the extradition of Meng Wanzhou when she landed in Vancouver about almost two years ago, [and] Canada’s been going through the extradition proceedings. How did China behave? They seized [two] Canadian citizens in China for no reason at all, not even having a good pretext to detain them,” Bolton said.

Chinese state-run media has also ridiculed the idea that Meng would be dealt with by an independent judiciary, and Trump has further fuelled Chinese conspiracy theories about political motivations behind Meng’s arrest with his comments about potential intervention.

Meanwhile, Canada has been forced to fiercely defend the independence of its judiciary, despite Chinese pressure for Meng to be returned to home soil — pressure that resulted in what Canadian officials have called the arbitrary detention of the two Canadians in China.


During the interview with Solomon, Bolton also expressed concerns about what could happen if Trump fails in his bid for a second term.

“This has been his focus, I think, during the entire first term of his presidency — not policies, but doing things that will get him reelected. And now, obviously, the pressure is on,” Bolton said.

The president’s former national security adviser said as the election draws nearer, the “likelihood of defeat” is becoming clear to Trump.

“In our long transition period before January the 20th, if he loses, I do worry about what steps he might take for revenge or just out of reaction to being a loser — which he hates to be,” Bolton said.

“I think that the transition period in a time of defeat could also be very troubling.”

Bolton also said the country will need to be “very careful” about the transition of power in light of comments Trump has made.

“I think what Trump has said, for example, that he couldn’t lose unless there were fraud I think that’s very dangerous…he could easily lose in a completely free and fair election, so if he’s trying to lay the basis to do something illicit, I’m very troubled by that,” Bolton said.

During a debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden last week, both men were asked whether they would urge their supporters to stay calm, not engage in civil unrest, and commit to a peaceful transition of power.

Trump would not commit clearly to accepting the result. Instead, he encouraged his backers to be “poll watchers” and cast doubt on the validity of the election due to the number of mail-in ballots anticipated.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacted to this issue on Thursday, saying Canada is “going to be prepared for various eventualities” of the election.

He added that he is “certainly hopeful that all will proceed smoothly.”

Meanwhile, Bolton has his own hope for the outcome of the November election.

“I definitely believe Trump should be a one-term President,” Bolton said.

“I don’t think he governs with any philosophy, or strategy, or policy. I’ve described life inside the White House as like living inside a pinball machine that hasn’t gotten better with age. I believed, when I took on the job as National Security Adviser, that the gravity of the job, the weight of his responsibilities, would have an effect on him. That turned out to be completely wrong.”


Bolton also shared details of the rationale behind Trump’s approach to slapping tariffs on Canada, noting that “there is no strategy” and that Trump “just likes” tariffs.

The comment comes after Trump cited national security as the rationale behind hitting Canada with steel and aluminum tariffs in May 2018, in the middle of new NAFTA negotiations. The tariffs remained in place for a year, during which time Canada fired back with dollar-for-dollar countermeasures on American steel, aluminum, and a surtax on other goods.

Trump also threatened to slap tariffs on aluminum imports coming from Canada this summer, but reneged on the decision at the eleventh hour as Canada was poised to unveil its countermeasures.

When Solomon pressed Bolton on what the strategy was behind these moves, the former national security adviser said “there is no strategy.”

“I know this sounds counterintuitive, but Trump likes tariffs. He just likes them, because he can impose them without having to get consent of Congress under various provisions in our trade laws,” Bolton said.

He said that Trump thinks the United States is “constantly taken advantage of,” which Bolton noted there might be some legitimacy to, as he said the U.S. trade negotiators “haven’t been the most astute.”

“He wants to show that he can respond strongly. But it has nothing to do with strategy, and it has a lot to do, I think, with him showing how assertive he is.”

With files from CTV’s Rachel Aiello and The Canadian Press

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