Nearly 250 readers dialed in to a conference call whose host was Deborah Solomon, our economics editor in Washington. On the line was Dan Bilefsky, my colleague in Montreal; Chris Buckley, a Beijing correspondent; Katie Benner, who covers the United States Justice Department in Washington; and Raymond Zhong, a technology reporter also based in Beijing.
They discussed the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese electronics giant Huawei, who is under house arrest in Vancouver awaiting an extradition hearing that may see her sent to the United States to face fraud charges. They also talked about China’s arrest on spying charges of the Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
And, of course, Canada-China relations in general came up.
For those of you who missed it, here are some of the highlights of the conversation. They have been edited for conciseness and clarity:
What are the next steps for the two Canadians being held in China?
Raymond: Well the courts are controlled by the Communist Party. So the outcome for them in terms of the legal processes is going to depend quite heavily on the political situation. Whatever happens with Ms. Meng, it seems pretty likely to affect their outcome.Ms. Meng, Huawei’s chief financial officer, arriving at court in Vancouver.CreditBen Nelms/Reuters
What does the United States contend that Ms. Meng and Huawei have done?
Katie: What is being alleged is that Huawei used one of its subsidiaries to secretly do business with Iran, which is subject to very stringent American sanctions.
The government is alleging that Ms. Meng and others at the company basically hid the fact that money would be moving in and out of Iran and inveigled a lot of banks to do business with them in violation of sanctions.
Those are extremely serious allegations.
The question, though, is whether the United States government can convince the rest of the world, not only that Huawei evaded the sanctions, but also about a broader argument hat Huawei is too closely aligned with the Chinese government and that nobody should use its equipment. They’re holding the case with Meng up as a prime example of why the company can’t be trusted.
Is Huawei connected or controlled by the Chinese government?
Raymond: Huawei maintains it operates independently from the government. But the bigger backdrop here really is that China is not a country in which private companies can operate independently from the government. That’s true in informal ways.
The operating environment in China is one in which companies have to listen to the government.
In the middle of all this, President Trump has suggested that he’s trying to win a trade deal with China, and that the case against Huawei and Ms. Meng could potentially be dropped if it works in America’s interests. How is this complicating Canada’s willingness to extradite her?
In terms of the legal questions regarding the extradition, that process is really a matter for the courts. It’s not a political matter.
Now one of the arguments of Ms. Meng’s defense lawyers is that by making these comments, Mr. Trump has politicized the case and therefore the extradition should not proceed.
But it’s quite rare for Canada to refuse extradition requests from the United States.
How has this affected trade between Canada and China?
Raymond: China imports certain things quite heavily from Canada, including canola oil. And last month there were reports that shipments of canola oil had been delayed or held up significantly at Chinese ports.
The official Chinese line is that pests had been discovered in the shipments. But almost everybody sees it as another swipe at Canada in connection to the Huawei situation.
But the trading relationship and the relationship between the people in the two countries seems to be quite vibrant. There’s a new Canada Goose flagship store that opened in Beijing not far from The New York Times bureau. And I can report that people seem to be pretty happy to keep buying Canada Goose.
Is China pushing Canada around because the Chinese leadership considers the Canadian government weak? I suspect China would be dealing with the United States in a qualitatively different manner.
Chris: And if Canada is feeling pressure from China then they’re joining a queue of other middleweight countries that have also had similar tensions recently.
I think China does have a sort of a very realistic view of the world in which the United States is seen as too big to take on in the same way as, say, Canada or other countries of similar size.
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