WASHINGTON: The United States and Canada on Friday promised a fair judicial process for a Chinese executive arrested in Vancouver on a US request, as they appealed to Beijing to free two Canadians held in apparent retaliation.
Foreign ministers and defence chiefs of the neighbours met in the US capital as Canada increasingly looks like collateral damage in a simmering US-China trade war, with Beijing at the same time working to ease trade tensions with Washington.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said authorities were acting “scrupulously” in the detention of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecom behemoth Huawei whom Washington wants extradited for allegedly violating US sanctions on Iran.
“We all agree that the most important thing we can do is uphold the rule of law, ensure that Ms. Meng’s right to due process is respected and that the current judicial process in Canada remains apolitical,” she told a joint news conference.
Freeland repeatedly said that Canada “is a rule-of-law country” that responded properly to an extradition request.
“In Canada, there has been to this point no political interference in this issue at all,” she said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was also “respecting the rule of law each step along the way” as it seeks Meng.
China, however, has said that Canada and the United States overstepped their authority and that Meng, who was arrested while changing planes in Vancouver, broke no laws.
Canada’s fears of repercussions have turned out to be well-founded, as China has since detained two Canadians on suspicion of “harm to national security” — a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage.
The Canadians are Michael Spavor, a China-based consultant who arranges visits for foreigners — including NBA star Dennis Rodman — to North Korea, and Michael Kovrig, a Mandarin-speaking former Canadian diplomat who works for the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.
Canada’s foreign ministry said its ambassador to Beijing, John McCallum, was granted consular access to Kovrig and is pressing for access to Spavor. Speaking to The Canadian Press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau predicted that access would take place “shortly.”
“We are being absolutely clear on standing up for our citizens who have been detained, trying to figure out why, trying to work with China to demonstrate that this not acceptable,” he told Citytv in Toronto.
ICG stressed that “at no point has there been any hint of any wrongdoing” by Kovrig.
“Far from being secretive, Michael’s work was open for all to see, Chinese officials first and foremost,” ICG president and CEO Robert Malley said in a statement, referring to the detainee’s past and present roles.
“The real danger to China comes from Michael’s arbitrary arrest and detention for these will have a chilling effect on people wanting to visit and engage with the country.”
Pompeo denounced the two men’s “unlawful detention” as “unacceptable” and demanded their return.
Freeland called the release of the two men “a huge priority” for Canada.
Meng, who stands accused of misleading US investors on Huawei’s operations in Iran, is out on bail of Can$10 million (US$7.5 million).
Her arrest comes as Pompeo leads a campaign to squeeze Iran’s economy to curtail the Islamic republic’s influence across the Middle East.
He has vowed to press all countries, friend or foe, to cut off business with Iran.
China trade rift eases
Even as China is seen as punishing Canada, it has appeared to pull its punches with the United States and moved ahead on a trade truce negotiated with President Donald Trump.
Beijing said Friday it would suspend extra tariffs on US-made cars and auto parts for three months from January 1.
The move follows an accord between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping — reached on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on December 1, the very day Meng was arrested — to hold off on new tariffs set to take effect in the new year and instead start negotiations on trade concerns.
Trump hailed the auto move, saying Beijing was taking action because tariffs he unveiled in recent months had caused China’s economy to slow.
“China wants to make a big and very comprehensive deal. It could happen, and rather soon!” he tweeted.
Canada has also been on the receiving end of Trump’s unorthodox approach on trade.
In June, Trump publicly criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak” for his statements on tariffs at a summit.
Freeland did not shy away from renewing Canada’s concerns. She said US tariffs imposed on Canadian aluminium and steel, which Washington has justified on national security grounds, were “unjust and illegal.”
“This is one of the situations you get in when the two largest economies in the world, China and the United States, start picking a fight with each other,” Prime Minister Trudeau said.
“The escalating trade war between them is going to have all sorts of unintended consequences for Canada, potentially the entire global economy. We’re very worried about that.”