EDITORIAL: Lost in China’s judicial quagmire

Sat, Dec 22, 2018 - Page 8

Huawei Technologies Co chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟) was taken into custody by the Canadian authorities on Dec. 1 while transiting through Vancouver International Airport after an arrest warrant was issued by the US government on charges of fraud and breaching sanctions against Iran.

The arrest took place just hours after Trump held a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, during which the two leaders agreed on a temporary halt to a further escalation of the US-China trade dispute.

Whether or not the timing was intentional, Xi must have been left hopping mad, and suspected that the arrest was linked to the US and other allied nations’ ongoing efforts to stymie further penetration by Huawei into their telecommunication networks because of national security concerns.

Two days after Meng’s arrest, two Canadians — a former diplomat named Michael Kovrig and a businessman named Michael Spavor — were detained by the Chinese authorities on charges relating to “national security.” Most Western diplomats, including former Canadian diplomats, believe it was a tit-for-tat detention designed to punish Canada and exert maximum pressure on Ottawa.

The case highlights the stark contrast between Canada’s independent and transparent judiciary, and China’s byzantine and state-controlled legal system. For example, following a three-day bail hearing at the British Columbia Supreme Court on Tuesday last week, Meng was granted bail of C$10 million (US$7.5 million) on the condition that she wears an ankle bracelet, surrenders her passports, does not leave Vancouver and its suburbs, and stays confined to one of her two Vancouver homes from the hours of 11pm to 6am.

Meng’s trial is scheduled to take place on Feb. 6 and if the judge finds the case is strong enough, Canada’s minister of justice will decide whether Meng should be extradited to the US.

Contrast this with the treatment of the two Canadians detained in China. So far, the Chinese authorities have not provided any further information on the nature of their charges other than that they relate to “national security” issues. They have not disclosed where the two are being detained nor have they said whether they will be given a hearing before a judge.

What information we do know has been uncovered through an investigation by Reuters published yesterday. Multiple sources familiar with the case of Kovrig say he was spirited away by security officials from a street in Beijing on Monday night last week. The former diplomat was informed of his arrest two days later and he finally gained consular access at a police station on Friday last week.

The sources said that Kovrig is not allowed to apply for bail, has been denied legal representation and his consular visits are limited to one a month.

One source said that he is confined to a single room, is being questioned every morning, afternoon and evening, and is not allowed to turn the lights off at night.

No information has surfaced regarding the whereabouts and condition of the businessman, Spavor.

In short, the two unfortunate individuals are trapped in the vortex of China’s opaque legal system, pawns in a high-stakes game of chess between the US and China, and wholly at the mercy of Xi’s whim.

Following the extrajudicial abductions of Hong Kong booksellers and a publisher in Thailand, who were guilty of nothing more than the dissemination of writings critical of the Xi regime, it is yet another reminder that China is a police state without rule of law.