Chinese executive’s extradition complicates Canada’s role in superpower standoff

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Chinese executive’s extradition complicates Canada’s role in superpower standoff

If it weren’t so serious, you’d have to laugh at how China’s government still misreads the way Western politics works, and how its reaction to the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou works against Beijing’s own interests.

But don’t laugh, because Canada is stuck in the middle of a superpower squeeze.

The RCMP, doing what Mounties do, arrested the communications company’s chief financial officer as she travelled through Vancouver on Dec. 1, because the United States requested her extradition on charges she misled banks to hide violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

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The Chinese are hopping mad, but their darkest threats have been aimed at the middleman, Canada, rather than the country seeking to prosecute Ms. Meng, the United States.

Bejing is, after all, trying to work out some kind of truce in its trade war with the Trump administration, and aiming fiery words at U.S. President Donald Trump over a Huawei executive could kill that effort.

Canada, however, has been warned by Chinese Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Yucheng that it faces “serious consequences” if it does not release Ms. Meng. Chinese news agencies published editorials describing Canada’s alleged perfidy for doing the United States’ bidding in colourful terms.

That bluster kills even the remote possibility Ottawa would intervene to release Ms. Meng. To do so now would be seen as buckling under to bullies in Beijing trying to interfere in a criminal case – and that would be political suicide for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, or his Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould.

The continuing Canada-China chill over months of extradition hearings will probably hurt Mr. Trudeau’s efforts to forge a different China policy, or trade deal – and that will suit Mr. Trump and the United States just fine.

The RCMP didn’t have much choice about arresting Ms. Meng, because Canada has an extradition treaty with the United States that requires it to act on U.S. requests in good faith. And it’s pretty important for Canada to keep a functioning system for cross-border investigations and arrests.

Now there is an extradition case to be handled by a judge, but Ms. Wilson-Raybould has some discretion.

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China has decried the whole case as political – and if Ms. Wilson-Raybould deemed Ms. Meng’s alleged offence to be “of a political character,” she could block the extradition. But that was never going to happen.

“It would be unheard of for the minister of justice to turn down a request from the U.S. on the grounds it is a political offence,” said Dalhousie University law professor Robert Currie, an expert in extradition law.

If Ms. Meng’s alleged offences did not take place in the United States – there are reports that it involved misrepresentations to banks in Asia – then Ms. Wilson-Raybould could possibly block the extradition on the grounds it was outside U.S. territorial jurisdiction. That’s still highly unlikely – and again, no politician is going to do that now.

Ms. Meng’s extradition case could take months, perhaps years. Charles Burton, a Brock University professor and former Canadian diplomat in China, said Beijing will be pressuring Chinese diplomats in Canada to secure her release, and arguments that Canada has the rule of law will be dismissed as excuses.

“I’m concerned that this will subsume everything else that Canada is trying to do with China,” he said.

That includes efforts to strike some sort of China policy that’s independent of the United States. It might well cool Canadian business interaction with China.

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But a Canada-China chill will be no skin off Mr. Trump’s nose. His administration isn’t fond of the idea that its neighbour to the north would strike trade deals with China. It doesn’t want Canadian companies picking up business lost by U.S. firms in a trade war. It will frown on the deals Canada might do with China. The United States seems to see this country as a little soft on the security risks posed by Chinese technology. In fact, there’s a pretty broad political consensus there about confronting China.

One thing Canadians can be sure of is that there will be something like this again. Perhaps not an extradition, but another U.S. move – such as legal pressure to bar Huawei equipment networks. And we know China believes it can respond by threatening other, less powerful countries.

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