You are currently viewing Lamont and Kilgour: Here’s what Canada could do to free Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor

Lamont and Kilgour: Here’s what Canada could do to free Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor

Since their detention last December, two Canadian citizens have languished in Chinese jails awaiting trial on trumped-up charges of endangering Chinese national security.

Their arrests are a government response to the arrest for extradition in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou, Chief Financial Officer of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. Meng and Huawei are wanted for prosecution in New York on federal charges. China maintains that the arrest of the Canadians and Meng are unrelated, and has imposed unwarranted trade impediments on Canadian beef, pork, and canola.

The Canadian government’s response to asking other states to join in public criticism of China’s actions is, at best, supine.

Instead, Canada should try to broker a deal between the United States Attorney and the Chinese government under which Huawei would plead guilty to the charges in return for dropping the charges against Meng. This would terminate the extradition process now underway. Meng could return home. China would experience baozhu mianzi (saved/guarded face). Spavor and Kovrig could be repatriated as part of the deal.

Canada’s inadequate response to Beijing’s provocations may be because Canadian commercial interests have the ear of the government. Captivated by the prospect of a huge Chinese market, prominent commercial interests have been working continually toward a trade deal with China. However, with relations between Canada and China at their nadir since Meng’s arrest, a trade deal anytime soon is unlikely.

Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou arrives at a parole office in Vancouver, Dec. 12, 2018. DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A former minister of Foreign Affairs and subsequent spokesman for major Canadian commercial interests in China, John Manley, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada prior to Meng’s arrest, correctly diagnosed its significance by suggesting that Canadian officials should have exercised “creative incompetence” to frustrate the American request for her extradition.

This subordination of the rule of law and respect for treaty obligations to commercial interests isn’t new. SNC-Lavalin exemplifies a conflict that arose when the ordinary application of the rule of law collided with vested commercial interests.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently stressed the importance of maintaining the rule of law even at the expense of trade advantages. The House adopted a resolution commending the Canadian Government for upholding the rule of law by acting on the request for the extradition of Meng and criticizing China’s actions in the case.

China has the incentive to go for a deal. The New York indictment against Huawei and Meng charges other unnamed persons, likely including Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei. Plea negotiations would allow the Chinese side to bargain for the discontinuance of any proceedings under the indictment against those unnamed individuals.

One might wonder how the Chinese government could get involved with an American legal process against a Chinese company and bargain for the outcome. After all, if a large U.S. company like Amazon and its senior executives were the subject of criminal proceedings elsewhere, nobody would expect the U.S. government to defend it by publicly advocating for the charges to be dropped.

But this is to misunderstand that large Chinese companies, unlike their Western counterparts, form the commercial arm of the Chinese government. In interviews since the publication of the indictments against Huawei, Ren Zhengfei has denied that Huawei is an instrument of Chinese government espionage involving its next-generation 5G technology.

But ultimately all Chinese citizens and companies are bound by Chinese criminal law to protect China’s national security. CCP officials decide how national security is to be protected, whether by installing back doors in communications technology to be sold overseas or by prosecuting innocent foreigners for “endangering national security.”

Because the decision-makers are Chinese government officials,  a negotiated settlement of the charges against Huawei and Meng is in the interests of Huawei, its senior executives, and the Chinese government.

The U.S. would also benefit by achieving a resolution of all the charges against Huawei without the expense of lengthy trials. Canada’s extradition process can be lengthy, with court challenges and appeals possibly delaying the timely resolution of the case. As well, American prosecutors will have to weigh the uncertainty of the outcome of court proceedings currently underway in Vancouver.

All parties have an interest in a negotiated settlement of the case against Huawei and its senior executives.

Source: Ottawa Citizen