China Holds Third Canadian National Amid Escalating Diplomatic Row


2018-12-20
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huawei.jpg File photo of the headquarters of Chinese technology giant Huawei in the southern city of Shenzhen.
AP

UPDATED at 3:00 P.M. EST on 2018-12-20

Canada on Wednesday confirmed that a third Canadian national has been detained by authorities in China in the wake of the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver.

"Global Affairs Canada is aware of a Canadian citizen detained in China. Consular officials are providing assistance to the family," spokeswoman Maegan Graveline said on Wednesday.

A source who spoke on condition of anonymity said Canadian officials found out about the detention on Tuesday from someone who knows the detainee, not from Beijing.

China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday identified the third detainee as Canadian teacher Sarah McIver and said has been given an “administrative punishment” for working illegally in China. Canada's National Post newspaper reported that arrangements were being made for McIver to return to Canada after she was detained over a visa irregularity.

Last week, authorities in China confirmed that are already holding two Canadian nationals -- consultant Michael Spavor and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig -- on suspicion of "harming national security," amid ongoing diplomatic tensions with Ottawa over Meng's arrest.

Their detention came after Beijing called for Meng's release, warning that "grave consequences" could ensue if the Canadian authorities continued to hold her.

Spavor is a China-based tourism consultant with contacts among high-ranking North Korean officials, while Hong Kong-based Kovrig had been working for the nongovernmental organization International Crisis Group (ICG).

Chinese law allows police to detain those suspected of vaguely worded "national security" crimes and hold them under residential surveillance at a secret location for up to six months, with no access to lawyers or family visits.

Extradition hearing

Meng was granted bail, and is confined under curfew to her residence in Vancouver, and must wear an electronic GPS tag at all times.

U.S. investigators must now file a formal extradition request by Jan. 8, 2019, after which Meng will appear at a hearing on Feb. 6, before the extradition hearing is scheduled.

U.S. investigators allege that Meng, a Hong Kong passport-holder, set up a company called Skycom to re-sell U.S.-made computer equipment to Iran, bypassing sanctions, and then sought to cover up the company's links to Huawei through the alleged fraud.

Her arrest came amid growing national security concerns over Huawei's bid to supply the next generation of 5G mobile technology to networks around the world.

Beijing has hit out at Canada and the United States over her arrest, while Huawei has denied it has close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, saying it is a private company.

Benson Wong, a former politics professor at Hong Kong's Baptist University, said Canada would need to act carefully, as the detainees could be used as bargaining chips in the Meng case.

"There's one important factor that Canada needs to consider, and that is whether China will stop what it is doing even if they do make concessions," Wong said. "Any compromise will send out the wrong message, [that] China only needs to detain U.S. citizens to exert pressure on the U.S., or British citizens to exert pressure on the U.K."

"This could lead to a kind of hostage diplomacy."

Great Firewall, Golden Shield

Meanwhile, Huawei invited a number of Western media organizations to a news conference in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Tuesday, to insist that it has no links to the government.

"Huawei isn't a technical institution linked to the Chinese government, but a technology company," CEO Hu Houkun told journalists. "We have received no requests from the Chinese government."

But an internet analyst surnamed Zhang said such comments don't reflect the reality of the relationship between technology companies and the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

"There's no way that Huawei has no ties to the Chinese government," Zhang said. "They were involved in a whole series of government initiatives, for example, they built the Great Firewall to ensure that people couldn't browse overseas websites."

"They also helped to develop Project Golden Shield, a facial recognition system, which means that you can be recognized when you walk down the street, and within a few minutes, all your personal data is shown," he said. "Huawei smartphones are also preinstalled with censorship and deletion software, so you can't get onto overseas websites."

Other commentators have cited China's National Intelligence Law that requires "any citizen or organization" to comply with requests for intelligence gathering on behalf of the Chinese state, or face "criminal accountability."

"Any organization and citizen shall, in accordance with the law, support, provide assistance, and cooperate in national intelligence work, and guard the secrecy of any national intelligence work that they are aware of," Article 7 of the law states.

"The state shall protect individuals and organizations that support, cooperate with, and collaborate in national intelligence work."

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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