Court hearings on the prospective extradition of Huawei CFO and founder's daughter Meng Wanzhou from Canada to the U.S. ended inconclusively last week. Meng's arrest in Vancouver in December 2018 prompted a flurry of retaliation from China, most notably the detentions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who now face prosecution on charges involving state secrets. Although cases against top Huawei executives have reportedly been under consideration since 2010, long before Donald Trump's election, the case has become inextricably entangled in the current wave of trade and technology disputes between China and the U.S.—not least because of Trump's publicly declared willingness to use Meng as a bargaining chip. Canada's uncomfortable position in the middle has heightened domestic disagreement over how best to navigate the trilateral relationship. From AFP, on last week's hearings:
“I’m reserving judgement,” British Columbia supreme court Justice Heather Holmes said at the end of a four-day hearing.
Further hearings are scheduled for later this year on allegations of a conspiracy to arrest Meng – the eldest daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei.
If extradited, Meng would face US prosecution on charges of fraud linked to violations of sanctions against Iran.
Four days of legal arguments this week focused on whether the US charges would stand up in Canada, a key test for extradition.
Appeals by either side could also drag out the case – which has strained relations between the world’s two largest economies – for years. [Source]
Holmes had previously warned government lawyers last week, according to The Globe and Mail's Sean Fine, that "this country needs to be wary of sending someone to face trial in circumstances that Canadians would find objectionable. Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes of the B.C. Supreme Court did not say that the U.S. request for Ms. Meng’s extradition is objectionable. But she raised the possibility for the first time that a case like this one might be – and that it would be a judge’s role to say so, and to reject the case for that reason."
An attention-grabbing sideshow to the hearings was the appearance of a small group of ostensible protesters holding signs calling for Meng's release:
Worth noting these “activists” holding signs were very firm in declining interviews to identify who they are/affiliated with. This is an extremely rare position for activists to take. Should be noted. #mengwanzhou https://t.co/UDCZCvoZqy
— Martin MacMahon (@martinmacmahon) January 20, 2020
I'm interested to know if anyone recognizes these protesters from outside a Vancouver extradition hearing today. If you do, please DM me. pic.twitter.com/lFm2qJDIeJ
— GeorginaSmyth (@GeorgieSmyth) January 20, 2020
Within hours, some of the "protesters" had come forward, now "pretty ashamed and embarrassed," saying that they had been paid CA$100-150 either to protest or to appear as extras in a film or music video. (Others, tracked down through social media, have insisted that the protest was genuine.) From Andrea Woo at The Globe and Mail":
The group of roughly two dozen supposed protesters immediately raised suspicions of media outside the courthouse on Monday, the first day of extradition proceedings. The group held signs bearing identical slogans: “Free Ms. Meng,” “Bring Michael home,” “Trump stop bullying us,” and “Equal justice.” The handwriting on each sign was the same. Those who held them refused to answer questions.
The repeated references to a singular “Michael” seemed detached from the fact that two Michaels – Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig – were seized by Chinese authorities after Ms. Meng’s arrest in December, 2018, and have languished in detention centres since.
[…] China Central Television, China’s main state television broadcaster, reported on Monday’s proceedings, including images of the pretend protesters. “Locals gathered outside the courthouse, calling for the release of Meng Wanzhou,” a narrator’s voice said in Mandarin.
CCTV did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday. [Source]
Whoever was behind the paid protesters, various elements of their supposed demands have arisen elsewhere in the public debate surrounding the case. Eddie Goldenberg, former chief of staff for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, argued in a Globe and Mail op-ed ahead of last week's hearings that "there is only one surefire way to obtain the freedom of the two Canadians: free Ms. Meng as part of a prisoner exchange." "It has been clear from the start that the Trump administration considers the matter to be in the realm of geopolitics," he added. "Submitting to unjustified American pressure is no better than submitting to Chinese blackmail."
John Manley, a former deputy prime minister under Chrétien, has argued similarly, conceding that "I think it is clear that Chinese authorities took the two Michaels into custody in response to Madame Meng being arrested," but nevertheless describing them as blameless "victims only of the actions of the Canadian government." Chrétien himself said in December that the current situation is "a trap that was set to us by Trump, and then it was very unfair, because we paid the price for something that Trump wanted us to do." (Critics have suggested that such advice may reflect current business interests more than reluctant pragmatism born of political experience.)
Elsewhere, former ambassador to China John McCallum was removed last year after stating that it would be "great for Canada" if the U.S. were to drop its request. A Vancouver MP for the New Democrat Party said at a consulate-hosted Chinese New Year party last week that "I thought from the beginning that this case was tainted by the political interests of the United States and Donald Trump. I think that’s clear from Mr. Trump’s own words.”
This political backdrop was described in February's Wired magazine by Garrett M Graff, who wrote that Huawei itself had been "caught in a geopolitical vise as the United States seemed to project all of its technological anxiety about China and globalization onto a single company [….] About the only thing that is clear is that the Trump administration’s fight isn’t really about Huawei at all."
President Trump […] almost immediately appeared to indicate that Meng’s case might be handled differently, and that the independence of the judicial process was up for negotiation. Just days after her arrest, Trump suggested to Reuters in an Oval Office interview that he might be willing to intercede on Meng’s behalf in exchange for better trade terms. “Whatever is good for this country, I will do—if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made,” he said, “I would certainly intervene.”
Trump’s comments left both Justice officials and Huawei executives fuming. Huawei leaders, who told me that they’d long respected the sacred place of the rule of law in the US system and wanted China to model it, now wondered how sacred it really was. [Source]
While Goldenberg suggested that both Canadian law and its extradition treaty with the U.S. allow Canada's Minister of Justice to order Meng's release, the Liberal federal government maintains otherwise. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the suggestion of a prisoner exchange, saying that "we are a country of the rule of law and we will abide by the rule of law." Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland has said that Canada will "honour our extradition treaty commitments."
A Globe and Mail editorial ahead of the hearings supported the government's course and appeal to the rule of law, but also expressed frustration with the U.S. side, describing the U.S. as "AWOL" in the aftermath of Meng's arrest.
[… T]he Canadian government did the right thing when it respected an extradition request from an American court in late 2018. This is what countries that follow the rule of law do.
If there is one thing that everyone can agree on, it’s that, by its conduct, Beijing has revealed its true face. The law in China is whatever the Communist Party wants it to be.
Canada stands for something different, and better. We don’t want a world where Group of 20 members settle disputes by kidnapping each other’s people and holding them for ransom.
[…] Where Ottawa now needs to direct its attention is Washington. The U.S. extradition request put Canada in this position, and we need its help and its heft, to take on Beijing. Help hasn’t exactly been forthcoming.
That, too, is a source of frustration. Canada is effectively standing up for the U.S. justice system, even as the United States is led by an impeached President who views the rule of law with Beijing-style contempt. [Source]
In an op-ed also at The Globe and Mail, lawyers Times Wang and Ti-Anna Wang wrote that Meng's case offered a potent showcase of Canadian rule of law:
We speak from hard-won experience. Our father is Dr. Wang Bingzhang, the McGill-educated pro-democracy activist who is nearing two decades in Chinese prison. In our efforts to free him, we’ve learned that the only way to guarantee victory when your opponent is as powerful a bully as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is to not just hold fast to your principles, but to broadcast them – especially when you know people are listening.
The reasons boil down to this: The nature of the CCP, combined with its international might, means that nothing short of near-total capitulation to its will can assure the release of people like our father, or of the two hostages taken by it, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. In our father’s case, that would mean, among other things, confessing to absurd crimes that other governments have already exonerated him of, as well as, on our part, staying silent.
Yet, release on such terms would be no victory for us; indeed, for our father, it would be worse than dying in prison. It would, however, be a victory for the CCP, which is eager to prove that its opponents are engaging in empty rhetoric when they talk about freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights, and that what everyone really cares about in the end is money and power. Against such cynicism, the surest way to win is to live in a way that proves otherwise. One example of doing so comes from our father himself.
[…] As for Ms. Meng’s case, if she can substantiate her claims about her rights being violated, we hope and trust she will prevail. Regardless of the outcome, we are proud of the way she has been treated by the Canadian government thus far, and we look forward to the day when people in China can enjoy such treatment themselves. [Source]
Despite this apparent openness to Meng's legal victory, Times Wang was dismissive of the prospect of a prisoner exchange in a roundup of views by The Globe and Mail's Nathan VanderKlippe:
It’s a “bonkers” idea, Times Wang countered. “It’s telling the Communist Party that might equals right, and we agree with you.”
[…] If the Justice Minister “decides to intervene and release Meng, it means he’s telling the world that even in a democratic society, judicial independence should remain subservient to national interests and political consideration,” said Mo Shaoping, a prominent Chinese human-rights lawyer. It’s a matter with significance beyond Canada, he said.
In China, the Communist Party controls courts, and top judges have dismissed the concept of judicial independence. “China does not believe in rule of law in democracies either, believing it’s also a political tool just as it is in China,” said Yaxue Cao, the founder and editor of ChinaChange.org, which publishes news and commentary related to Chinese civil society and human rights.
A political intervention to release Ms. Meng, even if justified by law, “will only prove to China that rule of law in the West is just like their rule by law,” warned Ms. Cao. “It will also send a message to China that Canada is weak and can be bullied into submission.” [Source]
While attracting some praise for holding firm over Meng's case, Canada's federal government has been criticized elsewhere for being too cautious toward China. It voted unsuccessfully in Parliament against the creation of a Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, which held its inaugural meeting last week, and has faced questions over the strength of its position on mass detentions in Xinjiang and protests in Hong Kong. Last week saw the launch of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, an umbrella organization for an initial 14 advocacy groups pressing MPs for firmer action. From The Star's Jeremy Nuttall:
“Ultimately, it comes to the bad choices of this government,” [Cherie] Wong says of the reason the alliance was formed. She is now executive director of the group.
[…] At today’s official launch, the organization unveiled five “demands” to be made to the Canadian government, crafted from a survey of 13,000 Hong Kong and Canadian residents, 2,000 from Canada. The survey was open to anyone and posted on social media by pro-Hong Kong democracy activist organization Citizens’ Press Conference.
The demands include using Canada’s so-called Magnitsky legislation to punish Chinese officials who have committed human rights violations, investigate foreign influence into Canadian public and private institutions and to provide humanitarian support for asylum seekers from China.
Ottawa must also condemn China’s human rights violations and protect Canadian’s freedoms from erosion by CPC supporters in Canada, say the demands.
But ACHK isn’t just disappointed in the federal government. The organization has also targeted progressive Canadians, accusing many on the left of being silent on the issue of China’s human rights abuses. [Source]
A propaganda directive on Meng's case obtained by CDT last May ordered outlets to "follow authoritative media coverage and the Foreign Ministry’s stance without exception. Do not reprint related foreign media reports without permission."
Meng's story, and the broader U.S. campaign against Huawei's role in the global deployment of next-generation 5G cellular networks, have seen the company hailed at home as a patriotic choice and a national champion. This picture has been was complicated late last year with a public backlash, predictably censored, against Huawei's reportedly frequent orchestration of police detention for employees involved in disputes against it. One case, that of 42-year-old Li Hongyuan, who was detained for 251 days, "struck a nerve for many in China’s expanding middle class, serving as a reminder of the tenuous state of the rule of law in the mainland for any individual when facing powerful interests."
Other countries have also been caught up in the campaign against Huawei. The New York Times' Katrin Bennhold and Jack Ewing reported last week that Germany faces threats from America of curtailed intelligence cooperation and from China of retaliation against its car industry. At Foreign Policy, Mario Esteban and Miguel Otero-Iglesias described Spain's similar dilemma. These and other cases are playing out against a backdrop of separate tensions in trade relations between the U.S. and European Union. The British government announced this week that it would allow Huawei a "limited role" away from "sensitive 'core' parts of 5G," to the U.S.' reported disappointment. Canada's Public Safety Minister said last week that Ottawa was weighing security and "other significant economic and even geopolitical considerations" regarding 5G, but that there is no current timetable for a final decision.
U.S. companies, meanwhile, are losing business with Chinese customers to foreign rivals, and seeing China ramp up efforts to nurture domestic competitors. Huawei itself, according to Bloomberg News early this month, "isn’t just surviving; it’s actually thriving in some areas," with sales last year rising 18% to record levels. "The question is for how long," the report added, as the situation drags on, inventory stockpiles run low, and the Trump administration eyes further restrictions.