Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Extradition orders from the US have put Canadian-Chinese relations in peril

Christine Beyleveldt // Editor-in-Chief

Every year begins with an international scandal, and it seems 2019 is no exception. Escalating tension between Canada and China has Chinese President Xi Jinping threatening “grave consequences” according to a recently published Forbes article, and it all comes down to Canada fighting someone else’s battles when truthfully, the situation didn’t concern us as a nation, at least until now.

But first, a bit of background. Huawei Telecommunications is a Chinese company that sells consumer electronics, something that security experts have warned Ottawa about for years, citing cybersecurity risks due to the fact that Beijing can force the company to supply data on its users. That, however, is a whole other issue. On Dec. 1, 2018, the company’s CFO, Meng Wangzhou, was arrested in Vancouver on extradition orders from the United States on grounds of fraud and violating sanctions the United States has against Iran.

Canadian officials should never have seized Wangzhou, considering she didn’t commit any crimes on Canadian soil. Directly after Wangzhou’s arrest, two Canadians were detained in China, and another, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, who was previously sentenced to 15 years in prison in China for drug trafficking, was hastily retried and just over a week ago re-sentenced to death.

Schellenberg is no innocent, but the fact that he was quickly re-sentenced to death is ringing alarm bells, because it appears to be a ploy to put pressure on Ottawa to release Wangzhou. However, the two other detainees currently being held in China, Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and consultant Michael Spavor, have some signatories clamouring for their release arguing that it amounts to “hostage diplomacy”, according to a Globe and Mail article.

All Wangzhou’s arrest has served to do is put the target for repercussion squarely on the backs of innocent Canadians, whom our government should prize far more than honouring an extradition agreement, but apparently don’t. According to Asia Correspondent for the Globe and Mail, Nathan VanderKlippe, “no Canadian political leaders, past or present, added their names [to the call for Korvig’s and Spavor’s release]”, despite over a hundred scholars and former diplomats from across the country doing so.

Canada appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place – breaking an extradition agreement with its closest ally and southern neighbour, the United States, or provoking another of its closest trading partners and rising superpower, China. Even though no extradition treaty should be worth more than any number of Canadians detained unlawfully overseas, China is in the wrong for essentially taking Canadian hostages to force Ottawa’s hand.

Whatever course of action Ottawa takes next, they need to consider it very carefully. Which relationship is worth more? Because Canada could soon very well find itself having to make that choice. The 90-day deadline for the United States to order Wangzhou’s extradition is looming. Given the steps taken by the Chinese government to put pressure on Canada while Wangzhou is under house arrest in Vancouver, imagine what will happen if her extradition to the United States is ordered.

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