National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MARIE-DANIELLE SMITH in Ot­tawa

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau is deny­ing any po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment in the ar­rest of a top Chi­nese tech ex­ec­u­tive at the Van­cou­ver air­port last week­end, while ex­perts warn the move could put a chill on CanadaChina re­la­tions.

Cana­dian au­thor­i­ties ar­rested Meng Wanzhou, the chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer of Huawei and the daugh­ter of its founder, on Satur­day as she was chang­ing planes. She is to ap­pear in a Van­cou­ver court on Fri­day for a bail hear­ing. She is fac­ing ex­tra­di­tion to the United States on U.S. sus­pi­cions that Huawei vi­o­lated sanc­tions against Iran by pro­vid­ing that coun­try with telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment. De­tails about the ar­rest are un­der a pub­li­ca­tion ban at Meng’s re­quest.

Trudeau de­nied that there was any po­lit­i­cal im­pe­tus to the de­ci­sion to de­tain Meng. “The ap­pro­pri­ate au­thor­i­ties took the de­ci­sions in this case. We were ad­vised by them with a few days’ no­tice that this was in the works but of course there was no en­gage­ment or in­volve­ment in the po­lit­i­cal level in this de­ci­sion be­cause we re­spect the in­de­pen­dence of our ju­di­cial pro­cesses,” he said Thurs­day.

None­the­less, Canada could face po­lit­i­cal or eco­nomic re­tal­i­a­tion. A pri­vate meet­ing be­tween Cana­dian MPs and Chi­nese of­fi­cials Thurs­day was can­celled, rais­ing the ques­tion of whether China wanted to halt high­level talks al­to­gether. The Chi­nese em­bassy con­firmed to the Na­tional Post that it was resched­uled “due to visa is­sues,” how­ever, and the del­e­ga­tion was still set to ar­rive late Thurs­day.

Aside from de­mand­ing Meng’s re­lease — with the Chi­nese em­bassy say­ing Thurs­day it “firmly op­poses and strongly protests over such kind of ac­tions which se­ri­ously harmed the hu­man rights of the vic­tim” — China ap­pears to be in a hold­ing pat­tern, with ex­perts sug­gest­ing that it is un­likely the coun­try will re­tal­i­ate im­me­di­ately. For their part, or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Cana­dian Cham­ber of Com­merce are re­port­ing no im­me­di­ate sense of panic from Cana­dian busi­nesses that op­er­ate in China.

Once an ex­tra­di­tion process has started, it’s a mat­ter for the courts and po­lit­i­cal ac­tors can’t just call up a judge to de­mand Meng’s re­lease, said Gor­don Houlden, di­rec­tor of the China In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Al­berta. “I don’t see the ba­sis on which this could be quashed by Canada,” he said. “Once the ar­rest has been made, the ex­tra­di­tion re­quest filed, it’s not an easy thing even for the (U.S.) pres­i­dent to can­cel a ju­di­cial ac­tion.”

Al­though China is likely to “un­der­stand” that Canada is un­der pres­sure from the U.S., the Chi­nese will have “spe­cial con­cerns that the ar­rest took place on Cana­dian soil,” said Paul Evans, at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia’s In­sti­tute of Asian Re­search. “I imag­ine that some Chi­nese are go­ing to see this as the equiv­a­lent of a hostage-tak­ing,” he said. “I hope very much that this will not es­ca­late into the equiv­a­lent of what hap­pens some­times when spies are ar­rested in one coun­try and the other coun­try re­tal­i­ates.”

Houlden said he thinks the U.S. is more likely to be a tar­get. “I think be­cause of the su­per-del­i­cate phase that we’re at in terms of U.S.China trade re­la­tions that China is more likely to wait for this process to move a lit­tle bit fur­ther in the le­gal pro­ceed­ings rather than re­tal­i­ate im­me­di­ately,” he said, but it wouldn’t sur­prise him if an Amer­i­can ex­ec­u­tive gets ar­rested. For Cana­dian busi­nesses, bar­ring any tit-for-tat ar­rests it may be dif­fi­cult to track ram­i­fi­ca­tions. “It’s like the dog that didn’t bark, if a busi­ness per­son de­cides not to make an in­vest­ment, or ex­ist­ing com­pany de­cides not to ex­pand their in­vest­ment (in Canada),” he said.

At the G20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina last week­end, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping agreed to a 90-day cease­fire in what had un­til then been an es­ca­lat­ing trade war, putting on hold Trump’s plans to fur­ther in­crease tar­iffs on Chi­nese goods. De­spite Meng’s ar­rest the same day that deal was an­nounced, Bei­jing of­fi­cials stood by the agree­ment on Thurs­day.

Evans ar­gued the ar­rest is just one small part of a broader, longer-term geopo­lit­i­cal story play­ing out be­tween the U.S. and China, and it is con­cern­ing for Canada to be caught in the mid­dle. “I think there’s a lot of things we don’t know about this yet but this is not small pota­toes. This is a sig­nif­i­cant sym­bolic and ma­te­rial ac­tion at a time of grow­ing U.S.China ten­sion around geopol­i­tics and techno-na­tion­al­ism,” he said of Meng’s ar­rest.

Canada has not joined the U.S., Aus­tralia and New Zealand in ban­ning Huawei’s tech­nol­ogy from be­ing used in 5G wire­less net­works be­cause of cy­ber­se­cu­rity fears. Huawei has re­jected claims that it could use the in­fra­struc­ture to spy on be­half of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, and de­nies re­ports that it has vi­o­lated sanc­tions regimes.

“The com­pany has been pro­vided very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the charges and is not aware of any wrong­do­ing by Ms. Meng. The com­pany be­lieves the Cana­dian and U.S. le­gal sys­tems will ul­ti­mately reach a just con­clu­sion,” said a state­ment from Huawei.


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