The Chinese government has said little about its reasons for arresting Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor this week, but on Thursday, the state-run Global Times published an editorial explicitly framing the arrests as revenge for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
The Times promised more “harsh measures” will be forthcoming if Meng Wanzhou is not released.
The Global Times piece began by reciting the Chinese government’s vague assertions that Kovrig and Spavor were arrested for participating in some sort of espionage activity, presumably related to North Korea, which Kovrig was researching at the time of his disappearance and Spavor has long cultivated as a business environment. The fact that Kovrig’s organization, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, is “not registered in the Chinese mainland” was stressed.
After quoting Chinese Foreign Ministry assurances that “China acted according to laws and regulations” by seizing the two men without filing formal charges and holding them incommunicado in undisclosed locations, the Global Times told the Canadian government to drop all charges against Meng Wanzhou:
The detentions are signs that relations between China and Canada may dramatically deteriorate if Ottawa continues to serve as a US pawn by detaining a Chinese citizen, Chinese analysts said on Thursday.
China has clearly stated several times its position on Meng’s case, and warned that Canada will face “grave consequences” if the country does not immediately release Meng.
To make that happen, China may adopt restrictions on imports of Canadian products and take others measures, Chinese analysts said.
The Global Times was able to round up plenty of analysts who declared China’s actions fair play because Canada is obviously working as a toady of the United States to persecute Meng for purely political reasons:
“The detention of Meng, who was in transit, under US rules and waiting for the US’ request to decide whether to release Meng, made Canada the 51st state of the US, and the whole incident is a burning shame for a sovereign state like Canada,” Yang Xiyu, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday.
“Canada has shot itself in its own foot by doing such a stupid and disgraceful thing,” Yang remarked.
Chinese analysts warned that Canada may become just a pawn in a much broader political game by continuing to obey the US. Instead, it should pursue independent diplomacy with China.
Song Fuxin, a lawyer at Guangdong Guangxin Junda Law Firm who has participated in several extradition cases, told the Global Times on Thursday that the US’ accusations that Meng committed fraud in connection with US sanctions against Iran had a political purpose, which according to international convention cannot be a reason for extradition.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver on well-documented charges that she perpetrated bank fraud while violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Unlike the way China is treating its Canadian hostages, every step of Meng’s arrest and possible extradition to the United States has been conducted in the open. While the two Canadians languish in obscure prisons and the world knows nothing of their condition, Meng was granted bail a few days after release and is currently staying at one of her houses.
And yet, for the Global Times, the story is all about China’s grievances with the unexpectedly hostile Canadian government that dared to arrest a member of Communist royalty. In addition to arresting Canadian citizens, the Chinese paper said consumer boycotts, import and export restrictions, bans on tourism, taxes against Canadian companies, and ominous but unspecified “national security” laws are part of “full deck of cards” Beijing can play against Ottawa.
One area in which the Global Times is unquestionably correct is that some Canadians would rather not be involved in the Meng mess. Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia wrote at the Globe and Mail on Friday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who knew about the U.S. extradition request, should have quietly warned Meng to stay out of North America in a display of “creative incompetence.”
Byers compared Meng’s politically charged arrest with the Spanish effort to extradite Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from London two decades ago, waving aside Meng’s offenses as relatively trivial and anticipating she will humiliate Canada by skipping bail:
Moreover, Pinochet was accused of torture; Ms. Meng is accused of bank fraud. The Spanish judge seeking Pinochet’s extradition was upholding the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The U.S. judge seeking Ms. Meng’s extradition is enforcing U.S. sanctions against Iran, sanctions the United Nations has recommended be withdrawn.
The request for Ms. Meng’s extradition was never the issue over which the future of China-Canada relations should have been decided. Mr. Trudeau seeks to justify his inaction as respecting the rule of law, but he had an opening – and missed it.
Now that the courts are involved, the moment for political decision-making has past. Years of appeals and worsening China-Canada relations could lie ahead.
Yet with Ms. Meng free on bail, she may well skip the country. The idea that some security guards and a GPS anklet could prevent this from happening is naive at worst and hopeful at best. The Chinese government has hundreds of officials and agents in Vancouver, and dozens of airplanes and cargo ships depart for China each day.
Losing Ms. Meng might be the least-worst outcome. Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor.
As a point of order, the sanctions Meng is accused of violating are not the sanctions unilaterally imposed by the Trump administration after it withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. The U.S. government began probing Huawei in early 2016 for sanctions-violating activities and bank fraud allegedly perpetrated under the Obama administration.
Meng is nominally a private businesswoman, the chief financial officer of the Huawei electronics conglomerate, not the Chinese head of state or even a top official of the Chinese government. China’s response to her arrest is teaching an important lesson to the world about the fiction of “independent Chinese entrepreneurs” and the danger that every business under China’s model of “capitalism” is actually an arm of the Chinese state.
If China’s pressure campaign against Canada works and Meng walks away scot-free, the world may rest assured that violating sanctions against noxious regimes like Iran is not the only offense Chinese Communist royalty will feel free to perpetrate. China’s plans for the coming century assume a great many leaders around the world will repeatedly conclude “discretion is the better part of valor” when it comes to opposing Beijing.