Representational image: iStock

China and Canada are hurling judicial recriminations at each other, with Beijing issuing strong language and dark warnings against the North American country.

The dispute between the two countries broke out when Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer (CFO) of Huawei, China’s tech giant, on December 1 in Vancouver, at the request of the United States, which accuses her of frauds linked to Iranian sanctions violations.

On December 8, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canadian Ambassador John McCallum to strongly urge his country “to immediately release [Meng] and effectively protect [her] legitimate rights and interests. Otherwise, it will definitely have grave consequences [and] have to bear the full responsibility for it.”

Since then China has detained several Canadians – including Michael Spavor, a businessman, and Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, both of whom are charged with endangering China’s national security – and sentenced to death Robert Schellenberg, another Canadian citizen, on drug charges.

That’s why, though Beijing has not publicly linked these cases, many see its actions as retaliations against Canada’s arrest of the Chinese executive.

Together with these arrests and the Schellenberg death sentence, the two countries have traded barbs, accusing the other of illegally or arbitrarily treating their respective citizen(s).

For instance, the Chinese vice-foreign minister said Canada’s detention of Meng not only “severely violates [her] legitimate rights and interests” but also “ignores the law and is unreasonable, unconscionable, and extremely vile in nature.” Other Chinese officials and state run media accused Canada of mistreating the CFO and violating her “basic human rights.”

But Canada has refuted such recriminations. In remarks on December 14, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland made clear that (1) Canada is a rule-of-law nation that honors its international treaty commitments and respects the rule of law and due process and (2), in Meng’s case, “due process and rule of law … has been scrupulously followed” and Meng will “be treated with full respect and be given full access to due process.” In her remarks, Freeland also said her country was “very concerned” about China’s detention of Kovrig and Spavor.

In a statement on December 21, she repeated that “Canada is a country governed by rule of law” and, that it “is conducting a fair, unbiased and transparent legal proceeding with respect to Meng Wanzhou.” What’s more, she said that Canadians “are deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of [its two citizens] and call for their immediate release.”

In her statement, Freeland also expressed “Canada’s appreciation for those [who] have spoken recently in support of [her country’s position]. Around that time, a number of Canada’s allies, including the US, the European Union and some of its members, such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, issued statements to support Canada.

For example, in his statement, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said his country “has confidence Canada is conducting a fair and transparent legal proceeding with respect to Ms Meng …, respecting the international legal commitments in its extradition treaty with the United States.” He also said he was “deeply concerned by suggestions of a political motivation for the detention of two Canadian citizens by the Chinese government.”

Such statements by Freeland and Canada’s allies infuriated Beijing. In comments on December 24, Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said China “is strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to” these statements. She accused Canada and its allies, including the UK and the EU, of having “different standards when it comes to citizens of different countries.”

China’s ambassador to Canada is even blunter. In an op-ed piece on January 10, Lu Shaye accused “a handful of Western countries,” such as the US and the UK, and “some Canadians” of having “double standards on justice for Canadians, Chinese.” The reason why those countries and Canadians “are used to arrogantly adopting double standards is due to Western egotism and white supremacy,” he undiplomatically, if not ridiculously, asserted.

But neutral people or countries probably agree that it is China – rather than Canada and its Western allies – that is actually behaving in such a hypocritical and repugnant manner.

As it is one of the world’s freest, most democratic and transparent nations, many, if not most, would agree with Freeland that Canada is a rule-of-law nation.

On January 16, Hua Chunying also claimed that “China is a country governed by law.” She said, “In accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, the people’s courts and the people’s procuratorates shall independently exercise the judicial and procuratorial powers respectively in accordance with the provisions of the law, free from any interference from administrative organs.” Such judicial independence may be true in theory. In practice, however, it is a completely different story.

The communist-run People’s Republic is an authoritarian, one-party country, which ranks near the bottom in democracy, freedom and other important political areas

The communist-run People’s Republic is an authoritarian, one-party country, which ranks near the bottom in democracy, freedom and other important political areas. Those who run the so-called “people’s courts” and “people’s procuratorates” are, without doubt, party members. Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian and powerful leader in decades, has indeed repeated that the ruling party must guide the “government, military, civilian, academic and everything in the east, west, north and south.”

Many would also agree with the Canadian foreign minister’s statement that her country “is conducting a fair, unbiased and transparent legal proceeding with respect to Meng Wanzhou” and that she “will be treated with full respect and be given full access to due process in Canada”.

Indeed, on December 11, the 46-year-old executive was released on $10 million bail and is currently living in one of her Vancouver homes. She and her lawyers will have facilities and opportunities to challenge the extradition request in court and to appeal any decision. What’s more, the entire judicial process will take place in open court, in front of the public and the press.

Asked how he was “feeling knowing [his daughter’s arrest] was an [extradition] request” and whether he felt that Meng “has been targeted because she is your family member and because of her position in Huawei” in an interview with foreign reporters on January 15, Ren Zhengfei, founder and president of Huawei, and Meng’s father, answered: “I trust that the legal systems of Canada and the United States are open, just, and fair, and will reach a just conclusion.”

What’s more noteworthy is that in his answers, according to the transcript of his rare interview, the 74-year-old reclusive businessman said he was “deeply grateful to the fairness of the Honorable Justice William Ehrcke,” who granted bail to her. He was “also much grateful to Prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley and Prosecutor Kerri Swift.” Ren likewise thanked the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women [where Meng was held after her arrest] for its humane management” and expressed “thanks to Meng Wanzhou’s cellmates, for treating her kindly.”

Such an acknowledgement showed, contrary to the accusations made by Chinese officials and state-run media, that Canada’s justice system has treated Meng kindly and fairly.

In contrast, Messrs Kovrig and Spavor have not received the same treatment. Canada’s envoy to China, John McCallum, reportedly told members of his country’s House of Commons foreign relations committee on January 18 that they are being mistreated by the Chinese authorities. According to that report, the two men are being kept in prison cells where the lights are on 24 hours a day, are subjected to lengthy interrogations and have no access to a lawyer. They only get half-hour visits once a month and are forbidden from speaking with consular officials in French in case secret messages are being passed.

In its statement on December 21, the EU said, “The declared motive for [their] arrest and detention … raises concerns about legitimate research and business practices in China. The denial of access to a lawyer under their status of detention is contrary to the right of defense.” That’s why the 28-member grouping “calls on the Chinese authorities to answer these concerns.”

Beijing’s recent dealing with the Schellenberg case has further supported the view that China acts arbitrarily.

Donald Clark, a professor of law at George Washington University Law School and an expert on the Chinese legal system, wrote that the detentions of the two Canadian men and the Schellenberg death penalty verdict reinforce the perceptions that Beijing is conducting what he terms “hostage diplomacy” and, worse, “death-threat diplomacy.”

In explaining why “there is every reason to suspect that China is using Schellenberg as a human pawn to pressure Canada into releasing Meng,” Clark highlighted Schellenberg’s “speedy retrial, speedy sentencing, harsher sentence” and other odd things. He pointed out that the 36-year-old, arrested in 2014, was sentenced just last November to 15 years’ imprisonment, but in a one-day trial on December 29, he was handed a death sentence.

China has dismissed Canada’s efforts to rally support and its allies’ responses to its call, with Hua Chunying refuting that the countries that have publicly backed Canada could be counted on 10 fingers. But in this dispute, as of today (January 23), no country has openly supported the Chinese side.

Nearly 150 academics, foreign policy experts and former diplomats, from 19 countries, recently signed an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping calling for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Again, it’s unthinkable that Beijing is backed by such a similar group.

On this reading, instead of making arrogant and ridiculous claims, such as those by its ambassador to Canada, which are very counterproductive, perhaps China should look at its own behavior and examine why Canada’s allies and like-minded people support Ottawa’s position.

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