VANCOUVER — The first phase of an extradition hearing for a senior executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei began today in a courtroom in Vancouver, a case that has infuriated Beijing, sparked diplomatic turmoil between China and Canada and complicated high-stakes trade talks between China and Canada. the United States.
Canada’s arrest of Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s legendary founder, in late 2018 at America’s request infuriated Beijing so much that it detained two Canadians in retaliation.
Huawei represents China’s progress to become a technology power and has been a topic of security concern in the US for years. Beijing views Meng’s case as an attempt to stem China’s rise.
“Our government has been clear. We are a country with a rule of law and we are fulfilling our extradition treaty obligations,” Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said during a cabinet retreat in Manitoba. “It’s what we have to do and what we will do.”
China’s foreign ministry on Monday complained that the United States and Canada are violating Meng’s rights and called for her release.
“It is a serious political incident,” said a ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. He urged Canada to “correct errors with concrete actions, release Ms. Meng Wanzhou, and return her safely as soon as possible.”
Washington accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of US sanctions. It says Meng, 47, committed fraud by deceiving the HSBC bank about the company’s business dealings in Iran.
Meng, who is out on bail and lives in one of the two Vancouver mansions she owns, sat next to her lawyers in a black dress with white polka dots. She previously waved at reporters when she arrived at the courthouse.
Meng denies the allegations. Her defense team says comments from President Donald Trump suggest the case against her is politically motivated.
“We rely on the Canadian legal system, which will prove Ms Meng’s innocence,” Huawei said in a statement when the proceedings began.
Meng was detained in Vancouver in December 2018 while changing flights — the same day Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for trade talks.
Prosecutors have emphasized that Meng’s case is unrelated to the wider China-US trade dispute, but Trump interrupted that message weeks after her arrest when he said he would consider intervening in the case if it helped settle a trade agreement with Beijing.
China and the US reached a “Phase 1” trade deal last week, but most analysts say any meaningful resolution of the main US accusation – that Beijing is using predatory tactics to supplant America’s technological supremacy – could take years of controversial talks. . Trump had raised the possibility of using Huawei’s fate as a bargaining chip in trade talks, but the company was not mentioned in the deal announced Wednesday.
Huawei is the largest global supplier of network equipment for mobile phones and Internet companies. Washington is pressuring other countries to restrict the use of its technology, warning that they could open themselves up to surveillance and theft.
James Lewis of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said the US wanted to send a message with Meng’s arrest. There is good evidence that Huawei intentionally violated sanctions, he said.
“The message that you are no longer invulnerable has been sent to Chinese executives,” Lewis said. “No one has held China responsible. They’re stealing technology, they’re violating their WTO obligations, and the old line is, ‘Oh, they’re a developing economy, who cares.’ If you’re the second largest economy in the world, you can’t do that anymore.”
The first phase of Meng’s extradition hearing will focus on whether Meng’s alleged crimes are crimes in both the United States and Canada. Her lawyers filed a motion Friday arguing that Meng’s case is really about US sanctions against Iran, not a fraud case. Canada has no similar sanctions against Iran.
“This extradition makes every appearance of the United States wanting to engage Canada to enforce the sanctions we have rejected,” Meng’s attorney Richard Peck said in court.
The second phase, scheduled for June, will deal with the defense’s allegations that Canada Border Services, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the FBI violated her rights while gathering evidence before she was actually arrested.
The extradition case could take years to resolve if an appeal is filed. Nearly 90 percent of those arrested in Canada on extradition requests from the US were handed over to US authorities between 2008 and 2018.
In retaliation for Meng’s arrest, China has detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor. The two men have no access to lawyers and family and are held in prison cells where the lights are on 24 hours a day.
China has also imposed restrictions on several Canadian exports to China, including canola oil and meat. Last January, China also handed down a death sentence against a convicted Canadian drug smuggler in a sudden retrial.
“That’s mafia-style pressure,” Lewis said.
Gillies reported from Toronto
Jim Morris and Rob Gillies, The Associated Press