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Paul Evans, a specialist in Asian studies at the University of British Columbia, speaks of “a new era of techno-nationalism,” in which the United States seeks to beat China in the race to acquire new technology by starving it of markets and intellectual resources. Getting Canada to detain and extradite Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou could be part of that new era.

If so, then the Trudeau government truly is in an impossible position: trying to preserve ties with the United States while deepening ties to China, and instead damaging both.

The Meng affair “plays to the fundamentals of the Canada-U.S.-China interactions” Prof. Evans said. “This is a choice Ottawa has feared having to make for a long time … this one is going to be very, very difficult.”

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Which is another way of saying: Things are a mess.

The situation with Ms. Meng has become so fraught that her fate could hinge on soybean exports. You’re right, that does require a bit of explanation.

The United States has until the end of January to formally request the extradition of Ms. Meng, who was detained on Dec. 1 at Vancouver International Airport at the request of the U.S. government. Assuming the United States makes that request, Canada’s Justice Department would issue what is known as an Authority to Proceed within 30 days, and the extradition process would be formally under way.

In the meantime, the Americans and the Chinese are in the midst of urgent talks aimed a preventing a full-scale trade war that the Trump administration is threatening to launch against China. The United States has set a hard deadline of March 1, after which, in the absence of an agreement, the United States would increase tariffs from 10 per cent to 25 per cent on US$200-billion worth of Chinese goods.

U.S. President Donald Trump melded the two streams into one this week by outrageously declaring that Ms. Meng’s fate depends on how the trade talks go.

“If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,” he said, adding: “It’s possible that a lot of different things could happen. It’s also possible it will be a part of negotiations. But we’ll speak to the Justice Department … we’ll get a lot of people involved.”

Things are going so well that already sales of U.S. soybeans to China are increasing, the President added.

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So Canada is holding Meng Wanzhou for extradition at the U.S. government’s request and now it appears that she’s also being held for ransom in trade talks. Ms. Meng for soybeans.

On the basis of the President’s remarks, both a judge and a justice minister might well have grounds to reject the extradition of Ms. Meng. As Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and others in the government say over and over: Canada is a country that abides by the rule of law. Having someone held for extradition in order to extort trade concessions from another country is anything but the rule of law.

But it could take years before the courts render their final verdicts, the justice minister of the day renders his or hers, and all avenues of appeal are exhausted. In the meantime, the Trudeau government’s highest priority remains securing ratification of the revised North American free-trade agreement, which means staying on friendly terms with the Trump administration, even if there are grounds to suspect that the White House is actively seeking to damage Sino-Canadian relations.

For instance: Prof. Evans wonders whether it is entirely a coincidence that the Americans asked us to detain and extradite a Huawei executive at the same time as Ottawa is reviewing whether to permit Huawei to help roll out this country’s 5G technology, which the Americans oppose.

“We need to think through what the American intentions have been in this affair,” he says.

For decades, now, Canada has sought to retain its close alliance with the United States while also improving trade ties with China. But the Americans may be forcing us to choose.

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The hard truth might be that both Ms. Meng and the Canadian government are pawns in the Great Game of power politics between Washington and Beijing.

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