It took several days for news of the Dec. 1 arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver to leak out. Judging by the reaction out of China, that was probably just as well.
The arrest, vice foreign minister Le Yucheng fumed, was “in disregard of the law, unreasonable, merciless and very evil.” The Chinese government issued a statement threatening Canada with “serious consequences” if it did not order Meng’s immediate release. A commentary in the Xinhua News Agency labelled Canada’s actions “lawless, unreasonable and callous.”
In slightly more measured tones, a Chinese foreign industry spokesman complained that Canada had “violated her human rights.” So that was … entertaining.
Much subsequent coverage of the story has focused on the economic angle. Huawei is one of the world’s largest technology companies, and a key part of China’s industrial strategy. It is also, however, a key part of its surveillance and espionage strategy, as every Western intelligence agency will tell you — it may not be state-owned, but it is certainly under state tutelage.
Moreover, while it may be tempting to see this as the latest shot in the ongoing U.S.-China economic war — the arrest happened on the same day U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were meeting at the G20 in Buenos Aires — in neither the U.S. nor Canada is it possible to detain people, even foreigners, at the whim of the government of the day.
In fact U.S. authorities have been investigating Huawei, and Meng herself, for some time, on suspicion of violating U.S. export sanctions on Iran. If there is not persuasive evidence against her, no Canadian court will approve her extradition; if there is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, no American court will convict her.
The more significant coincidence of timing, perhaps, is with the renewal of Chinese interest in a free trade agreement with Canada. That China has targeted most of its rhetorical fire not on the U.S., which requested the arrest, but on Canada, which carried it out, is not hard to explain: it has calculated Canada is the weaker link.