A protester outside a court appearance for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou at the British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver demonstrates in early 2020 against China's alleged treatment of Uighurs while holding a photo of detained Canadians Michael Spavor (left) and Michael Kovrig – both of whom have been described as hostages taken by China in the hope of gaining leverage in the Meng case. Photo: AFP / Jason Redmond

Recently, Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case again drew global attention. Evidence shows that HSBC staff had knowledge of Huawei’s business dealings with Skycom, an Iranian entity that is subject to US sanctions. Regrettably, the Canadian court rejected Meng’s submission of the evidence.

The story started in December 2018, when Canada, at the request of the US Department of Justice, arrested Meng at Vancouver International Airport where she was transferring flights.

Since then, the case has dragged on for two and a half years.

Meng, daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei, has denied all allegations, and further court proceedings are expected.

There is no doubt that Meng’s case has dragged Canada-China relations, both diplomatic and economic, into a difficult position. Furthermore, two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested in China one week after Meng’s detention. The “two Michaels” have been accused of espionage.

The prosecution of these two Canadians resulted in further deterioration of the two countries’ relations.

Some commentaries have linked the Canadian and Chinese cases and suspected that Meng has been made a bargaining chip in the US-China trade war. In turn, probably as a counter-strategy, China barred the import of Canada’s canola seeds, citing quality issues. 

In March, Canada joined allied countries in imposing sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged abuse against Uighurs in Xinjiang. Likewise, China sanctioned Canadian parliamentarians and politicians.

China’s direct investment in Canada dropped sharply last year. This reflects China’s loss of trust and confidence toward this North American business partner. 

Prima facie, Meng’s extradition fight and the prosecution of the two Michaels appear to be legal cases, but behind the scenes, they may actually involve the engagement of political negotiation and lobbying. 

Apparently, China’s diplomatic means have been subject to a dramatic adjustment. Now, China is focused on a firm determination never to bow under external pressure and foreign intervention. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should take initiatives to improve and smooth Ottawa’s relations with Beijing, which could result in relief for the two arrested Canadians. Both countries want to see their citizens return home, as do the detainees’ families. If the Canadian court eventually hands Meng over to US custody, we will see a further crack in the relations between Beijing and Ottawa.

Traditionally, China and Canada have overlapping interests. In fact, the two powers have never been enemies. Canada should consider ending Meng’s extradition proceedings to avoid further jeopardizing her rights and hurting foreign relations. 

The Meng case is no doubt one of the major obstacles to China-Canada relations. Foreign citizens should not be held as hostages to a trade war and Meng should be released soonest.

Once the relations of the two countries return to normal, we might even expect China to extend an invitation to Canada to join and contribute to the Belt and Road Initiative. It is always more productive to make friends than enemies.

Kar-kin Chu

Kar-kin Chu is a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a researcher of the Hong Kong and Macau Basic Law Research Center and an executive director of the Hong Kong Association for Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China. He is a PhD candidate and a veteran current-affairs commentator based in Hong Kong.