WASHINGTON — The White House is playing down the links between the release of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and last week's decision to abandon the extradition of Meng Wanzhou.
Press secretary Jen Psaki says the U.S. Department of Justice is an independent agency and reached the decision to pursue a deferred prosecution agreement with the Huawei executive on its own.
Meng was allowed to return to China after a New York judge approved the agreement Friday, and Spavor and Kovrig were on their way back to Canada that same night.
Psaki says U.S. President Joe Biden urged China at every turn to release the two men, whose arrests were widely seen as retribution for Canada's arrest of Meng in December 2018.
But she says abandoning the Meng case should not be taken as evidence of a shifting foreign policy approach toward China.
Republicans, most notably Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have criticized the agreement and want the White House to brief Congress on how it came about.
"It may feel foreign to them that the Department of Justice is independent, but it is independent under this administration," Psaki said.
"No one should read it as an impact on our substantive policy. This is a legal matter and a legal decision."
Psaki was unable to say whether Biden was aware that a deferred prosecution was in the works when he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month.
"Our policy has not changed, our policy toward China," she said.
"We're going to continue to hold (China) to account for its unfair economic practices, its course of actions around the world, and its human rights abuses. And we will continue to do that in partnership with our allies around the world."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2021.
The Canadian Press