Canada caught in crossfire as Trump mixes business with politics
- Sabrina Meng’s arrest highlights a change in the US policy towards companies that break its laws overseas from fining firms to targeting their officials
Accusations that political motives are behind American efforts to have Huawei executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou extradited from Canada to face fraud charges would seem to have been confirmed by US President Donald Trump. He said after the daughter of the leading Chinese technology company’s founder was freed on bail by a Vancouver court that he was willing to intervene in the United States Justice Department’s case to avoid further deterioration in relations with China. Linking the arrest to the trade war all but confirms suspicions and calls into question the independence of the US judicial system. There are now understandable worries about whether a fair trial is possible should extradition take place and businesspeople the world over have cause for concern about being arrested on dubious grounds by the long arm of American law.
Meng’s arrest at Vancouver airport on December 1 came while President Xi Jinping and Trump were holding crucial talks on the trade war. Huawei has long been accused by the US of violating American sanctions against Iran and there was no need to act at such a time. The company is also a world leader in next-generation 5G telecommunications and the US is campaigning to prevent its technology from gaining global acceptance, contending industrial espionage on behalf of Beijing is at play. Beijing’s angry response, in which it said there would be “grave consequences” unless the Huawei chief financial officer was freed, was to be expected.
Her release after three days of bail hearings and order to return to court on February 6 does not calm tensions. Trump’s suggestion that the case could be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations on the trade war only complicates an already complex situation. There has been no explicit indication that the arrest in mainland China of Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat now working for the non-governmental organisation the International Crisis Group, is a retaliatory step by Beijing. Meng’s arrest put relations between China and Canada on a collision course, even though Ottawa was obliged to do so under an extradition treaty with the US.
Meng’s arrest also highlights a change in the US policy towards companies that break its laws overseas from fining firms to targeting their officials; 19 people among 30 charged over the past year were convicted. It is a dangerous shift, creating a fear factor in the global business community by making liable people who may personally have committed no crime. Linking the matter to the trade war is as worrying. Canada’s judicial system is renowned for its fairness and independence from politics, matters that should ease concerns, although consideration now has to be given as to whether the case is being used by Trump as a political tool.