More than 80 per cent of Canadians have negative impressions of China’s authoritarian rulers and more than half believe Canada was right to detain a senior Huawei executive for possible extradition to the United States, a new poll shows.
Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, currently released on $10-million bail and confined to the Vancouver area, has severely strained relations with Beijing, sparking angry demands for her to be returned home and the imprisonment of two Canadians on allegations of endangering China’s national security.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to interfere in the Meng case, saying it is a matter for the courts to decide – a view shared by the majority of Canadians, according to a Nanos poll conducted for The Globe and Mail.
The survey, conducted between Dec. 30 and Jan. 5, found 56 per cent of Canadians surveyed think the arrest of Ms. Meng, chief financial officer at Huawei, is “primarily a justice issue” and Canada acted properly in detaining her for possible extradition to the United States on allegations of fraud relating to American sanctions against Iran.
However, 29 per cent of Canadians feel Ms. Meng’s arrest was politically and economically motivated and threatens to damage relations with China – a view promoted by Beijing, which accuses the United States of using the Huawei executive as a pawn in contentious trade talks.
“This would be the 29 per cent who are accepting the position of the Chinese in terms of what happened … but the reality is the majority of Canadians just take the U.S. request at face value," pollster Nik Nanos said.
U.S. President Donald Trump mused last month that he “would certainly intervene” in the Meng case if he thought it could help get a trade deal with China. Huawei is China’s biggest private company and the No. 2 smartphone vendor in the world. But in a telephone call with Mr. Trudeau on Monday, the American President agreed that the U.S. extradition request should be left to the courts.
The United States must submit a formal extradition request by the end of January for the matter to proceed and it is not yet clear whether the Americans will do so.
China’s arbitrary arrests of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, founder of a tourism company, has darkened Canadians' views of China. They were arrested, separately, on Dec. 10, just days after Ms. Meng’s detention in Vancouver. Canadian consular officials in China met with Mr. Spavor for the second time on Tuesday but did not provide any details on his condition.
The Nanos survey found 83 per cent of Canadians have a negative or somewhat negative view of China’s one-party government and 53 per cent regard Beijing as a national security threat to Canada. The poll said fewer than one in 10 Canadians have a positive or somewhat positive view of China’s government; it also found 24 per cent believe China does not pose a security threat while 23 per cent are unsure.
“The key message here for the government or for any politician is that you should be extremely careful in your relations with China from a political perspective,” Mr. Nanos said. “Canadians' perspectives of China tend to be negative. They have concerns related to security and it is a political risk to being ameliorating [relations] or overly friendly to China.”
A majority of Canadians also believe the Trudeau government should follow the lead of the majority of Canada’s Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners and ban Huawei from supplying equipment to build the next-generation 5G wireless networks in this country.
Mr. Trudeau is facing a difficult decision on whether to join the United States, Australia and New Zealand and ban Huawei from 5G mobile networks. Britain and Canada, which are the other members of the Five Eyes alliance, are conducting security reviews of Huawei’s 5G technology.
The Nanos poll found 53 per cent of Canadians think Ottawa should bar Huawei from providing 5G equipment while 18 per cent feel this is an overreaction and Canada should allow Huawei to sell its 5G technology to domestic wireless firms. Twenty-nine per cent are unsure.
“For many Canadians when they are rendering opinions they are looking at what other countries are doing,” Mr. Nanos said. “So when they see other countries … have noticeable national security concerns, it basically provides political cover to the government if there were to go down that path [and ban Huawei].”
Nanos randomly surveyed 1,000 Canadians using live agents using landlines and cellphones and administering a survey online. The margin of error for the random survey is 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
U.S. authorities allege Ms. Meng deceived international banks into clearing transactions with Iran by claiming two companies were independent of Huawei, when in fact Huawei controlled them.
Reuters revealed on Tuesday that it had obtained corporate filings and other documents in Iran and Syria that show Huawei is more closely linked to both firms than previously known. The companies are Skycom Tech Co Ltd and shell company Canicula Holdings Ltd.
The documents reveal that a high-level Huawei executive appears to have been appointed Skycom’s Iran manager. They also show that at least three Chinese-named individuals had signing rights for both Huawei and Skycom bank accounts in Iran. Reuters also discovered that a Middle Eastern lawyer said Huawei conducted operations in Syria through Canicula.
The previously unreported ties between Huawei and the two companies could bolster the U.S. case against Ms. Meng, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, by further undermining Huawei’s claims that Skycom was merely an arms-length business partner.
U.S. authorities assert Huawei retained control of Skycom, using it to sell telecom equipment to Iran and move money out through the international banking system. As a result of the deception, U.S. authorities say, banks unwittingly cleared hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions that potentially violated economic sanctions Washington had in place at the time against doing business with Iran.
Ms. Meng did not respond to a request for comment by Reuters, and Huawei declined to answer questions. Reuters said Canicula’s offices could not be reached. A U.S. Justice Department spokesman in Washington declined to comment.
Huawei said last month it has been given little information about the U.S. allegations “and is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng.” The company has described its relationship with Skycom as “a normal business partnership.” It has said it has fully complied with all laws and regulations and required Skycom to do the same.
With reports from Reuters