VANCOUVER—Canada is at risk of retaliation from China, including the arrest of Canadians in the country, said a former ambassador to China after the chief financial officer of Chinese-owned Huawei was taken into custody this week.
With the bail hearing of Meng Wanzhou currently underway in a Vancouver court, Canada is “caught in the middle” between an extradition treaty with the U.S. and a Chinese technological powerhouse, said Guy Saint-Jacques, former ambassador to China and currently a fellow at the China Institute at the University of Alberta. He said that Canada is now vulnerable to retaliation.
“When you look at everything we are not a very important country for China. I’m afraid they will want to put a lot of pressure on us … and they have no qualms with doing things that I would qualify as nasty,” he told StarMetro.
Saint-Jacques said that China could try different tactics to ramp up pressure, such as arresting Canadians doing business with China. This move would not be unprecedented. In 2014, Canadians Julia and Kevin Garratt were arrested by Chinese officials and accused of spying, in a move that Saint-Jacques and many in the international community believed to be retaliation for the arrest of Chinese citizen Su Bin in Canada that same year, who was accused of hacking U.S. military databases.
“Whether they want to arrest some Canadian business people to put pressure on the Canadian government … we hope it won’t become too ugly,” said Saint-Jacques.
While Meng’s bail hearing will wrap up this week, Saint-Jacques said that Meng’s lawyer will likely try to delay extradition, leaving her in Canadian custody — and leaving Canada under increasing pressure from China. Saint-Jacques said that Canada needs to make clear to China that Canada is not exempt from the “rule of law” and has no choice but to comply with the U.S. extradition treaty.
Saint-Jacques also said that all political moves are under the shadow of the Trump administration, which has made moves to attempt to limit China’s trade capabilities. He said that Canada has become caught between these competing goals.
“China is very proud of what has been accomplished by Huawei and growing its technological power,” he said, referring to the ‘Made in China 2025’ plan to make the country a technological giant on the world stage. “They see everything in this context of the U.S. trying to confine China.”
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Stephen R. Nagy, a professor and fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation, said that while Canada must respect ties with the U.S., Canada should take a co-operative approach in any dealings with China. A better understanding of China and the broader trade impacts is important, he said.
“Canadians need to be very cautious in how we engage in East Asia, we need to understand how things would affect broader policy,” he said. “I think it’s a case-by-case approach and Canada should engage in co-operation.”
Cherise Seucharan is a Vancouver-based reporter covering health and safety/youth. Follow her on Twitter: @CSeucharan