monday, 20 january of 2020


Extradition hearing of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou gets under way: Canadá

One is allowed to travel throughout parts of Vancouver, enjoy restaurants, stroll through parks, wear designer clothes and smile for the cameras.

Two others are held in a Chinese jail, with little communication to families and friends, and very restricted access to consular help.

Normally, the trio would have little or nothing to do with each other. But global politics and matters of justice have forever linked the drastically different positions of Meng Wanzhou, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Ms Meng, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms group Huawei, is in Vancouver fighting extradition to the US, while Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor are the two Canadians held in Chinese jails, widely viewed in Canada as being detained in retaliation for Ms Meng’s arrest.

Her arrest on December 1 2018 — to face charges of breaching US sanctions against Iran — sparked an international crisis and sunk relations between the countries to an all-time low, and has spread to include claims she is a political pawn in the US-China trade war. She has denied the allegations.

The ramifications of Ms Meng’s arrest were harsh and swift. Days after her detention, China arrested and jailed Messrs Kovrig and Spavor on accusations of espionage. Separately, Chinese officials banned Canadian imports of pork and beef, which have since been reversed, and blocked imports of canola seeds from two of the nation’s largest exporters costing an estimated $1bn annual loss of business.

The saga enters a new phase this week as Ms Meng, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, heads to a Vancouver court for the first part of her extradition hearing, which will focus on the issue of ‘double criminality’ — the requirement for extradition that the offence she is accused of is a crime in Canada and the US. It is scheduled for the whole week. More court dates are scheduled for later in the year.

Ms Meng’s lawyers had argued that her case should be dismissed because it was based on alleged breaches of US sanctions on Iran, which were not crimes in Canada at the time. However, in recent court filings, Canadian government lawyers said her alleged offence was not breaking US sanctions on Iran, but defrauding UK-based bank HSBC. Crown lawyers, representing US interests in the case, said "the essence" of her "offending conduct is fraud, not violating sanctions".

As a result of her misrepresentations, "HSBC’s economic interests were put at risk," they said, because it prevented the lender from accurately assessing the risks of maintaining a business relationship with the Chinese group, they added. Ms Meng told the bank during a meeting in Hong Kong in 2013 that Huawei had cut ties with Skycom, a company operating in Iran.

Ms Meng’s lawyers plan to argue that she was a victim of a conspiracy between Canadian and US authorities to violate her rights. They will also argue that she is being used as a political pawn in the US-China trade war. The US and China on Wednesday signed ‘phase one’ of a pact to pause their trade war — despite a recent plea by Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau for the US to hold off until Mr Spavor and Mr Kovrig are released.

Ms Meng is also personally suing Canadian border agents for her treatment before her arrest, while Huawei is suing the US government over what it claims are unconstitutional barriers to entering the country’s telecoms market.

Canada is also facing pressure from the US to ban the Chinese group from its 5G network over security concerns. The Canadian government has not made such a decision yet and is watching events in the UK, which is considering allowing Huawei access to its 5G network, said University of Ottawa professor Wesley Wark, an expert on national security and intelligence.

"The key for Canada will be to avoid isolation by finding a group of like-minded countries and negotiating American desires," said Prof Wark. "For Huawei, Canada is a small market and a decision to ban them from 5G would not really affect their global business but it would be a straw in the wind and an indication that US pressure tactics on allies might win out, with broader ramifications for Huawei's stake in Europe and elsewhere."

Though Canada is not a big market for Huawei, Paul Evans, at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, said the Chinese company was "playing the long game" and probably sees Canada as a good source of research and development and "partnerships that are of practical and reputational value to the company".

Despite the China-Canada tensions, Prof Evans, called the situation "stable", noting officials on both sides had cooled their rhetoric. But China could step up restrictions such as on tourism and student enrolment. "People-to-people relations have been pretty steady even as diplomatic relations have chilled," he said. "If the Chinese turned off these taps the economic and psychological effect would be severe."

Since posting C$10m bail, Ms Meng is allowed to live in one of her two upscale Vancouver homes, under a form of house arrest with a 24-hour security team, though she can travel through parts of the city and is subject to a curfew. As well, she must wear an ankle monitor and be escorted by private security guards wherever she goes.

Meanwhile, Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor remain in Chinese jails. China has refused to allow them access to lawyers while allowing only limited consular visits.

Hong Kong-based Mr Kovrig is a former diplomat and adviser at the International Crisis Group. Mr Spavor, who lives in China, organises cultural exchanges in North Korea.

ICG called the arrest of Mr Kovrig "arbitrary and unacceptable". Karim Lebhour, ICG’s head of communications and outreach for North America, said: "We have not been able to communicate directly with Michael since he has been detained. He is only allowed one consular visit every month."

Prof Wark said: “Probably the best outcome for the two Michaels at this stage would be ongoing quiet diplomacy plus a Chinese show trial followed by quick expulsion from China and return to Canada.

"Calls for a harder Canadian line against China do not strike me as very realistic as we have limited leverage and cannot really afford a trade war with that country."

(Published by Financial Times, January 20, 2020)

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