How China-Canada Relations Have Reached a Tipping Point as the Finale of Huawei CFO’s Trial Nears

Meng Wanzhou

There was a recent time when China-Canada relations were at their best. Back in September 2016, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced the beginning of a new “golden decade” in the two nations’ relations when he met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa. But it didn’t take very long for the luster to fade away. When the Canadian police in December 2018 abruptly detained Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s CFO, aided and abetted by U.S. authorities, China-Canada relations were inevitably slipping into an awkward position.

The reason why the incident has ignited such an amount of anger and confusion between the two sides lies not only in that there existed little precedent for the gratuitous arrest of a senior executive in one of the world’s biggest telecoms companies, but most importantly because the episode came as the U.S., the mastermind behind Meng’s arrest, started to target Chinese tech companies, in particular, 5G manufacturers like Huawei and ZTE, in a bid to bully them out of competition.

A political hot potato

In the larger picture, Meng’s case represents a watershed in the two country’s relations: It signals that the Canadian government would willfully act as America’s pawn and puppet in containing China at the expense of its economic and diplomatic ties to its second-largest trading partner. At a time when trade frictions between China and the U.S turned white-hot, with Huawei at the center of the clash, Canada’s “timely arrest” of Huawei’s CFO following the order of its neighbor is nothing if not choosing sides and a blatant act of adding insult to injury.

That’s why the incident has evolved into a matter of diplomatic concern, far beyond one legal case. Canada’s steps in joining America’s smear campaign against China — in the issues ranging from Huawei’s 5G to Xinjiang and Hong Kong — have substantiated the notion that Meng’s arrest is a long-planned political move, executed by the Canadian police and instigated by U.S. authorities. It prophesied a bad start that Canada was set to blindly follow America’s lead in framing China: Accusing China’s 5G technology could be deployed to “spy” on other nations, a skill the U.S. is good at; baselessly attacking China on the grounds of human rights, an area both Canada and the U.S. have recorded a notorious history.

Since Meng’s arrest at the Vancouver Airport nearly 1,000 days ago, Chinese high-ranking officials have time and again urged the Canadian government to redress its wrongdoings and asked for the immediate release of Huawei’s chief executive. On January 10, 2019, one month after Meng’s arrest, Lu Shaye, then the Chinese Ambassador to Canada, published a signed article in The Hill Times entitled “Why the double standard on justice for Canadians, Chinese?” In that article, Ambassador Lu highlighted that Canadian politicians and media outlets had exercised double standard in reference to Meng’s case and the case against two Canadian nationals who are suspected of engaging in activities that endanger China’s national security. “Without violating any Canadian law, Meng was arrested…and put in handcuffs just as she was changing planes at the Vancouver International Airport,” he wrote, adding that, “It seems that, to some people, only Canadian citizens shall be treated in a humanitarian manner and their freedom deemed valuable, while Chinese people do not deserve that.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has also voiced his concerns over Meng’s case on multiple occasions. At a press conference in Beijing on the sidelines of the second session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) on March 8, 2019, the minister stressed that using national power to groundlessly discredit and suppress specific enterprises “is a flagrant act of political manipulation.” In a meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, Wang Yi delivered of a long list of demands, including withdrawing visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Party members and their families, sanctions on Chinese leaders, officials and government departments, lifting visa restrictions on Chinese students as well as withdrawing the extradition request for Meng Wanzhou.

On the flip side, the U.S. and Canada have been fishing in muddy water and profiteering from the case. On August 9, Richard Peck, head of Meng’s legal team, pointed out that Former U.S. President Donald Trump had muddled Meng’s case in pursuit of a bargaining chip in the China-U.S. trade friction. “That’s the very definition of ransom; that’s what we’re dealing with here,” Mr. Peck told Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

SEE ALSO: Canadian Judge Challenges Prosecutors’ Arguments Over Huawei CFO’s Extradition

The recent sentencing of two Canadian citizens who committed felonies is yet a renewed showcase for the hypocrisy and double standard of certain politicians and media outlets. After a Chinese court upheld a death sentence against Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, a Canadian national convicted of smuggling over 222.035 kg of methamphetamines in China in 2018, followed by the sentencing of Michael Spavor for foreign espionage and the illegal provision of state secrets, some Canadian political figures, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and media outlets have been eager to adopt the moral high ground to accuse China of politicizing the sentencing of two Canadian nationals, meanwhile totally forgetting that they were exactly what they are accusing of. 

A heated topic

Out of the scope of foreign affairs, Meng Wanzhou’s case has also grabbed enormous attention from Chinese and foreign netizens and has become the talk of the tech community.

On one of China’s most popular social media platforms Weibo, the fate of Ms. Meng and the developments of her case have been pulling the heartstrings of millions of Chinese netizens, whose emotions ebbed and flowed along with the twists and turns of Meng’s trial that has stretched for over two and a half years.

Some netizens have expressed their outrage over the Canadian police’s baseless move. “How dare they arrest a Chinese citizen in such an unreasonable and rude way? The legitimate rights of every Chinese must be protected!” one netizen commented. Some echoed the Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s remarks and said that “We urge Canada to redress its wrongdoing and ask for the immediate release of Ms. Meng.”

A majority of them have soon shifted the blame to the U.S., as they deem it was America not Canada that had orchestrated the incident. “From sanctions against ZTE to the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, are cheap shots the last resort for the U.S. to maintain its competitive edge?” one asked under the comment section of CCTV News. “The U.S. hasn’t stopped its crackdown on Chinese tech companies, now it is confining a Chinese citizen in another country?” one wrote in Weibo, adding that, “It has evoked a feeling of déjà vu for me — the U.S. is repeating its dirty tricks from the Cold War era and during its competition with Japan, which showed the brazen side of the world’s superpower.”

Many have expressed their unswerving support for Huawei and Meng Wanzhou and proposed the entire community to unite closer together in this special time. “I believe this is the moment for the entire nation and its people to unite together to resist the unreasonable crackdown on Chinese tech companies,” wrote one netizen named Chen Dengcai on Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website. “If we allow the bullying to continue to happen, Tencent, Alibaba or Baidu may be the next,” he wrote.

As Meng’s extradition hearings enter the final stage, discussions surrounding her case outside the Chinese mainland have also gained momentum. Although many debates are focusing on the recent sentencing of two Canadian nationals, there are still a host of people who have turned their attention to the case.

“In the history of Canadian law, there has never been a case, without proof of loss from fraud, that resulted in prosecution of fraud,” Cyrus Janssen, a Canadian businessman said on Twitter on August 17. Last year, he posted a YouTube video briefing about Meng Wanzhou’s extradition trial in Vancouver, in which he said that he talked to police in the courthouse, who told him Canada was doing “Donald Trump’s dirty work” in the case.

Screenshot/Twitter

Some went online to doubt the legitimacy of Meng’s arrest. Tom Fowdy, a British writer and North Korea and China analysis, recently tweeted that “The people who decry the trials of Canadians in China as motivated refuse to admit that Meng Wanzhou equally was such, despite the fact: 1) Canada’s former ambassador admitted it and had to resign; 2) Trump himself literally said she was a bargaining chip.”

Screenshot/Twitter

There are also some people who have cast their doubts on the biased coverage of Meng’s case by some media. “As a Canadian I have to say that I deeply regret the arrest of Meng Wanzhou at the Vancouver airport,” one netizen named Jay Sour wrote on Quora. “This sentiment is shared by everyone I have spoken to here in Canada. Unfortunately, you will read the opposite opinion in right-wing, comprador media like the National Post,” he said, meanwhile pointing out that there was no justification for Canada’s assisting the U.S. in punishing the Huawei CFO. “This arrest is a clear attempt to block friendly relations between Canada and China,” he wrote in the Quora article he posted. “From what I have read of Meng Wanzhou’s alleged crimes, I hope that the Canadian judiciary will quickly recognize that the American demand for her extradition is entirely political (in the USA, political, military and business interests are inseparable) and not judicial,” he added.

Screenshot/Quora

The evidence phase of Meng’s extradition hearings began last Thursday and continued until this Wednesday, wrapping up the entire trial. By August 20, Heather Holmes, the Associate Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, will make the final decision on whether to order Meng’s discharge or to order Ms. Meng to be extradited to New York to face trial in the U.S.

SEE ALSO: Meng Wanzhou’s Final Arguments in Extradition Battle Begin

No matter what the outcome is, the case is bound to be the center of attention. Experts and business insiders believe that the final decision of Meng’s extradition could potentially become a turning point for China-U.S. relations, having an impact on the two nations’ economic ties and people-to-people exchanges for years to come. “In this whole process what role Canada plays would have long lasting impact on the long relationship these two countries share and would impact the people on both the sides,” wrote Atul Dalakoti, executive director at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) China, in a commentary published by the Global Times.

On August 18, hours after the conclusion of the evidence phase of Meng’s extradition hearings, Huawei Canada issued a statement in which the regional subsidiary stressed that Meng Wanzhou’s Charter rights “were violated by the abuse of the legal process” and reiterated that the Huawei CFO’s arrest was politically motivated and unlawful. “From the start, Huawei has been confident in Ms. Meng’s innocence and has trusted the Canadian judicial system,” the statement read. “We continue to do so today.”