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Editorials Globe editorial: China, Huawei and the next Cold War

On Nov. 30, former American president George H.W. Bush passed away. On Dec. 1, Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, daughter of its founder and member of one of China’s most prominent families, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport.

The first event had people talking about the end of the Cold War, which Mr. Bush presided over. The second event had people fearing the start of a new Cold War, between Washington and Beijing, and the West and China.

It’s not difficult to imagine that happening. But if it does, it will be in a world where the two sides are closely tied, their economies interconnected and interdependent. A generation ago, the Western world and the Soviet Bloc weren’t just political rivals. They were separate, parallel economic systems. Trade was minimal, as was human contact. There was literally a wall between them.

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Ms. Meng’s case is a reminder of how much things have changed. In seeking bail on Friday, Ms. Meng’s lawyers offered as surety two homes owned by her husband – in Vancouver. One of her children attends school in the United States. She sometimes goes by a Western first name, Sabrina. Huawei, her family company and one of China’s corporate jewels, has spent tens of millions of dollars funding wireless research at Canadian universities. It’s even a lead sponsor of this country’s most iconic TV show: Hockey Night in Canada.

That’s nothing like the Cold War. The Soviet elite were not carrying American Express Platinum cards, earning degrees at Western universities and buying investment properties in British Columbia. The only way to leave the Soviet Bloc was as a defector, and once you left, you didn’t go back. In contrast, the huge number of immigrants from China to Canada are generally free to travel and to do business in both countries – which benefits them, Canada and China.

China is more a part of our shared world than the Soviet Union ever was, and that is a very good thing.

But beneath the surface connections, there is conflict. And Huawei is at the centre of it.

Western security services are deeply suspicious of the company, identified as an instrument of the Chinese state. It has close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, as do most major private enterprises in China. There are credible allegations that its role as one of the world’s top players in telecommunications and internet technology is used to give Beijing a platform with which to spy, to conduct industrial espionage, and to set the stage for future cyberattacks.

The United States, Australia and New Zealand, three of Canada’s partners in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network, have blocked or limited their telecom companies from using Huawei equipment in the next generation of wireless networks. Recently, former prime minister Stephen Harper urged Canada to do likewise. We believe Mr. Harper is right.

Ironically, the U.S. charges against Ms. Meng have nothing to do with any of these significant concerns. Instead, U.S. courts are seeking Ms. Meng’s extradition to face accusations that she and her company violated U.S. sanctions on Iran.

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The charge against Ms. Meng is particular and even peculiar. But the fact of it will focus minds around the globe on a bigger issue: the growing tension between the American-led Western world and China, and the reasons for it.

The Canadian government must be frank with Beijing about where it stands. That is not a stance of hostility toward China. It’s about looking after Canada’s own interests.

Canada’s courts must independently consider the U.S. extradition request; there is no way to honour the Chinese demand that Ottawa somehow end a court proceeding and free an accused. That would be illegal and impossible under Canadian law. We are a rule-of-law country. As part of the extradition treaty with the United States, this process will take place beyond the control of politicians. If American prosecutors have made a credible case, extradition will happen.

That is precisely why Ottawa must put off all talk of negotiating an extradition treaty with China. Beijing is a totalitarian regime; it doesn’t believe in the rule of law or legal independence. It’s why Canada should not give China the freedom to invest in Canada that it has long sought.

But because we’re a rule-of-law country, Ottawa should stress to Beijing that independent legal proceedings against Ms. Meng need not have anything to do with political negotiations to lower trade tensions.

Washington must make that same point, and mean it.

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