Canada and China’s relationship in turmoil

The arrest of Huawei CFO sparks tension between the two nations

Following the arrest of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on Dec. 1, Canada and China have been locked in a diplomatic dispute further exacerbated by foreign interests. The most boisterous voice of foreign interests is our neighbour to the south, the United States of America. The U.S. has called for the extradition of Wanzhou on the basis of 13 indictments, some of which include bank fraud as well as sanctions violations.

The Wanzhou case has been the most strenuous event between Canada and China in recent years. The Harper government’s stance towards the Asian country is categorically the same as the current approach involving a switch between hardball politics and capitulation.

Before the Wanzhou arrests, perhaps the most representative act of this was Trudeau’s visit to China with the goal to criticize their human rights record in order to promote a work standard more in accordance with Western practices. The actual meeting turned out to be less one-sided than anticipated. China went on the offence and criticized Canada’s treatment of first nations peoples, noting that many communities were without clean drinking water.

Political science professor Rob Hanlon who specializes in politics in the region puts forth that Canada has always maintained a somewhat ambivalent relationship with the country.

That meeting may have left Canada with a blemish on our self-congratulatory humanitarian image, but the fallout of the Wanzhou arrest has resulted in consequences that are less conceptual and even deadly for a Canadian citizen abroad.

The immediate backlash directed towards Canada manifested itself twofold; as verbal reprimands and as the detainment of Canadians overseas. In the span of two months since Wanzhou was placed under house arrest in her Vancouver home, there have been a series of Canadians arrested. Two of which are explicitly connected to the Wanzhou arrest, while the other arrests and sentencing have not been linked to the recoil, although do seem suspiciously convenient.

The first arrest of a Canadian relevant t so the Wanzhou case was Michael Kovrig on Dec. 1. As a senior advisor at International Crisis Group, Kovrig often criticized the Chinese government. In a social media post, Kovrig was critical of Huawei’s expansion into the foreign market.

Michael Spavor was the second Canadian detained by Chinese authorities. Spavor has gained notoriety for being intimately associated with the North Korean regime. Both of these arrests were cited by Chinese officials as being retaliatory towards the Wanzhou arrest.

The most damning act of Chinese juridical action was directed at Robert Schellenberg who was previously sentenced to 15 years in Chinese prison for conspiracy to traffic nearly 500 lbs of methamphetamines. This sentencing has been changed to the death penalty, a sentencing that is seldom given to Westerners. Chinese officials claim this is not in tandem with the Wanzhou case, however, it is coincidental.

Hanlon is also quick to suggest that the diplomatic dispute between Canada is one that can be overcome. He asserts that our government officials are proficient at their jobs and will  be able to take care of the issue. Rather than the issue being Canada versus China, it is likely that Canada finds itself as an awkward middleman between China and the U.S.