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Canada at crossroads with no path to victory: Maclean's on diplomatic fight with China

Last Updated Feb 4, 2019 at 11:11 am EDT

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves a Vancouver courthouse on Jan. 29, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

Canada has no winning hand in the ongoing diplomatic dispute with China, according to a new cover story for Maclean’s magazine.

The article breaks down every twist of the complex dispute. At the heart of the battle is the extradition case of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, which was sparked by the U.S.

Writer Shannon Proudfoot says while the Trudeau government insists this is a matter for the courts, the final call on extradition is actually a political choice by the justice minister.

“Either way, this ultimately lands on a politician’s desk. It is a cabinet-level decision,” she explained.

The Maclean’s article details Wanzhou’s rise to prominence in her father’s company to her arrest at Vancouver’s airport and how her extradition case has trapped Canada in the middle of a battle between super-powers.

“Every week seems to bring more tensions or escalating stakes,” Proudfoot said.

Our government has no winning hand in this high-pressure game. The extradition could drag on for years, while two Canadians remain detained in China and a third on death row.

The result will either anger our closest ally or an emerging super-power.

A portion of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou: The world’s most wanted woman by Maclean’s:

For about $11,000 Canadian, a first-class ticket on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Vancouver entitles the purchaser to a “suite” with a seat that transforms into a bed, wood-panel finishes, an organic cotton sleep suit and, if one pleases, a flute of champagne and a tin of caviar to begin dinner service. The Dec. 1 overnight trip was smooth and speedy, arriving at the Vancouver gate at 11:17 a.m., 18 minutes ahead of schedule. Meng Wanzhou couldn’t have known it at the time, but this early touchdown would shorten her remaining time as a free woman.

The snaking, glass-wall-lined corridor through Vancouver’s international terminal let Meng loosen her weary legs as she headed toward the customs area. She was scheduled for a 12-hour layover before catching a red-eye to business meetings in Mexico City. But after she scanned her Hong Kong passport in the self-serve machine, border authorities flagged her for further screening.

Two days earlier, U.S. officials had caught wind of Meng’s stopover in Vancouver—because her flight from Hong Kong crossed U.S. airspace, Homeland Security had its passenger list, and by Nov. 30, a B.C. Supreme Court judge had signed a provisional warrant for the Huawei chief financial officer’s arrest under the Extradition Act, due to looming U.S. charges against her for fraud linked to violating international sanctions against trade with Iran. RCMP officers awaited her arrival.

Meng was escorted to a windowless room for questioning by federal authorities. The 46-year-old’s severe hypertension flared up, so after the interrogation, she was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. Then authorities took her to the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women in Maple Ridge, B.C., one hour’s drive from the airport and worlds removed from the luxuries familiar to a member of Chinese corporate royalty.

This would set off a cascade of events that now traps Canada between two antagonistic superpowers—one helmed by a man obsessed with demonstrating that he always holds the strongest hand despite a feeble grasp of the state of play, the other by a leader determined to prove that his country could rocket to worldwide economic dominance without the encumbrances of Western democracy.

Meng’s arrest would lead, in dizzyingly short order, to the imprisonment of two Canadians in China for reasons deliberately kept murky, and the resentencing of a third to death after his original 15-year prison term was suddenly deemed inadequate. Any pretense of friendly bilateral relations imploded as Chinese officials publicly scolded, mocked, insulted and threatened, and Canada leaned on its allies for support, with the implication that next time it could be them.

As China demanded that Canada pick a side, it would become glaringly obvious that the U.S.—the closest of this country’s allies by dint of both geography and long precedent—was more interested in nabbing Meng and Huawei than any repercussions Canada might face as a result. Equally apparent was that Ottawa had been caught flat-footed, seemingly unprepared for the forces Meng’s arrest would unleash. At the centre of the saga stood Huawei, telecom behemoth, striving avatar of China’s global ambition and—many critics charge—an instrument of state surveillance whose tentacles reach far beyond China’s borders. Meng would spend months out on bail, swathed in luxurious semi-confinement in her Vancouver home, surrounded by neighbours who barely knew her, occasionally sending plaintive and oddly hammy PR missives to the outside world.

Through the ratcheting international tensions, Canadian politicians and government officials would return again and again to the phrases that are supposed to lay out how things work—rule of law, international order, apolitical process—as though by repeating these words like a mantra, they will suddenly matter again. Instead, the blunt fury with which Beijing reacted to the arrest of one of its most prized and prominent citizens would make that belief look like starry-eyed naïveté.

Read the full article at Macleans.ca.

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