If Western countries are going to have a showdown with the People’s Republic of China, it had better be over real issues of rights, democracy, justice and the rule of law – a defence of universal values. Unfortunately, the case surrounding the Vancouver arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou appears to be about none of those things.
All three countries involved – China, the United States and Canada – are at risk of betraying the values they proclaim in the service of a dark politics of revenge and abduction.
The government of China, in its response to this case, has shown not just that it is willing to overstep the bounds of law and morality, but that it does so to support what increasingly appears to be a corporate fiction.
Huawei has long been accused of being affiliated with the Chinese military, which is controlled by President Xi Jinping. The company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, was an officer in the information-technology branch of the People’s Liberation Army before he started the company in 1987. (Ms. Meng, the company’s chief financial officer, is his eldest daughter.)
Both Beijing and Huawei have denied this, but the Chinese state appeared to confirm a close relationship in its outlandish response to Canada’s arrest of Ms. Meng. In the same week she was released on bail, Chinese officials seized and imprisoned two Canadian residents of China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, without due process and on vague accusations of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security” of China.
There is no evidence either is guilty, and no evidence their detention is anything other than an escalation of threats Beijing has made to Canada for abiding by the terms of its deportation treaty with the United States.
The U.S. government, however, has lost any moral high ground in this case. The reasons for Ms. Meng’s arrest were always suspect, but became utterly bankrupt when President Donald Trump declared he would “certainly intervene” in Ms. Meng’s case if it helped his country win a better trade deal with China. There was already a sense that Washington’s weirdly arbitrary extradition order was as much of a political hostage-taking as China’s detention of the two Canadians; the President just confirmed it.
The government of Canada is not just in danger of being party to this unsavoury game, but of deporting Ms. Meng for reasons that run contrary to Canadian policies and principles. Canada, rightly, has a bilateral deportation treaty that obligates it to arrest and hand over anyone accused of something that is considered a crime in both Canada and the United States.
There are good reasons a country such as Canada might want to arrest a Huawei executive: The company has been accused of using its installed network and mobile-phone technology in Western countries to spy, steal intellectual property and potentially control networks on behalf of Chinese government and military authorities. Governments and companies in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United States have banned Huawei equipment from their mobile data networks. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has warned universities in Canada that lucrative research contracts with Huawei could lead to the theft of information developed with public funds.
Those are not the reasons the United States wanted Ms. Meng arrested. Rather, it was related to the U.S. trade embargo against Iran.
Canada, along with China, France, Russia, Britain, Germany, the United States and the European Union, got rid of its most serious sanctions against Iran in early 2016, after Iran fulfilled the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear-peace deal. Mr. Trump reimposed the U.S. sanctions this year, against the objections of the other JCPOA states, including Canada.
It is not yet clear whether Huawei is accused of violating U.S.-only sanctions – that is, an offence that exists only in the United States – but most informed observers say they probably are. “I can find no evidence that Canada signed onto the relevant sanctions, so it’s a function of the Americans demanding extraterritoriality for their laws,” said Ian Lee, a Carleton University associate professor of management who is an expert on Canada-Iran and Canada-China relations.
To skirt this issue, Washington has employed a technicality: Ms. Meng is accused not of violating the sanctions, but of fraud – that she allegedly lied about the Iranian business dealings of a Huawei-connected company.
Canada’s Justice Minister, who holds ultimate authority over the deportation decision, should not accept that ploy. If the underlying accusation – that Ms. Meng violated a U.S.-only embargo – is not considered a violation of Canadian policy, then lying about it should not be grounds for deportation. If we give in to U.S. demands under these conditions, then we are as guilty of unprincipled hostage-taking as Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi are.