Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says China’s detention of a third Canadian this month does not appear to be further retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a senior executive with China’s flagship tech company Huawei Technologies.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau said details obtained so far suggest this third case is more of a routine matter and different from the Dec. 10 detentions of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor.
The third Canadian is a woman from Alberta who is teaching English in China. Her name is Sarah McIver, according to a source to whom The Globe and Mail granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Both Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor are being held by the Chinese on suspicion of “engaging in activities that endanger the national security" of the country, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters in Beijing last week.
They were arrested by Chinese authorities days after Beijing warned Canada would face “serious consequences” over the high-profile arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei chief financial officer, in Vancouver on Dec. 1. She was detained at the request of U.S. authorities who want to see her extradited there over allegations of concealing payments from Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
China has strongly protested against her arrest to U.S. and Canadian officials. Last week, the Chinese embassy in Canada said Ms. Meng’s detention amounts to a “political conspiracy” to undermine Huawei and dismissed Mr. Trudeau’s assertion that he played no role in the decision.
Separately on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said he will rely on this country’s intelligence agencies to determine whether Huawei should be barred from supplying equipment for next-generation 5G mobile networks here as close allies in the United States, Australia and New Zealand have done.
“It shouldn’t at all be a political decision made on how we engage but a decision made by experts and a decision based on recommendations by our intelligence and security agencies who have an extraordinary depth of expertise," Mr. Trudeau said.
The Prime Minister did not identify the third Canadian or provide further details about the accusations this latest individual is facing in China.
“The preliminary indications that we have indicate it is a case [regarding] more routine details. The others arrested … were accused of serious crimes – problems regarding national security, intelligence – so those cases are more serious,” Mr. Trudeau said in French.
"We do feel that actually this third one does not resemble the first two cases,” he underlined, referring to the circumstances surrounding Mr. Kovrig’s and Mr. Spavor’s detentions.
David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said Mr. Trudeau’s comments about the latest detention being unrelated to Ms. Meng do not dispel his concerns that the Chinese are continuing to punish Canada.
“We’re sort of letting them off the hook” with this case, he said. “How do we know that?”
Mr. Mulroney said it’s hard to separate any detention of a Canadian in China from the Meng case right now.
"It doesn’t have to be a national security case to work for the Chinese,” Mr. Mulroney said. "Regardless of the Chinese motivation the effect is the same.”
He said one problem for China right now is that these arrests remind Canadians – and those in other countries – of the perils present in China.
“In addition to being a surveillance state, it’s a detention state.”
Mr. Mulroney said it’s surprising the government is even discussing this case publicly if it is a routine matter.
Bob Rae, a former interim leader of the federal Liberal Party, said via Twitter Wednesday morning that Canada needs to develop a “robust, principled and effective response” in the wake of this latest detention, saying “This looks too much like hostage taking.”
Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the SOAS University in London, said China could easily make it clear that this latest detention is unrelated to the Meng arrest.
If Beijing doesn’t, he said, it creates the impression the cases are linked – and, he said so far he’s unaware of any clarification coming from China to deny a link to Ms. Meng.
"Thus, one can only draw the conclusion that it is a further reprisal for Meng’s arrest.”
Prof. Tsang said China’s behaviour following Ms. Meng’s arrest is harming its reputation around the world.
“Taking hostages as an instrument of diplomacy is ultimately damaging to the country that practises it,” he said.
“A country that practises it will discredit itself as a responsible member of the international community and will damage its reputation and standing.”
Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum, met with Mr. Kovrig last Friday and Mr. Spavor on Sunday.
Mr. Kovrig is on special leave from Global Affairs Canada and does not have diplomatic immunity; he now works as an analyst for the International Crisis Group. Mr. Spavor runs a company that brings tourists and hockey players into North Korea and gained fame for helping arrange a visit to the Hermit Kingdom by former NBA player Dennis Rodman.
Ms. Meng, who is also the deputy chair of Huawei’s board and the daughter of company founder Ren Zhengfei, was released on $10-million bail last week. She is accused of misleading multinational banks about Huawei’s control of a company operating in Iran, putting the banks at risk of violating U.S. sanctions and incurring penalties, court documents said.
The United States is leading a global campaign to persuade allies, including Canada, to bar Huawei from 5G networks on grounds that Beijing could order the telecom to tap the hardware it makes to spy on or disable communications networks. Under Chinese law, companies must “support, co-operate with and collaborate in national intelligence work” as requested by Beijing.
The United States and Australia have blacklisted Huawei from supplying gear to their 5G wireless network infrastructure and New Zealand has blocked the first request from one of its wireless carriers to install the company’s 5G gear. Telecom firms in Japan, France, South Korea, Taiwan and Britain have also taken measures.
Canada – which is a member of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance along with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. – is conducting a cybersecurity review of Huawei and its 5G technology.
With a report from Robert Fife.