China detains Canadian ex-diplomat amid US trade row

Beijing angry as top Huawei exec arrested on suspicioun she violated Iran sanctions; Canadian judge to decide whether to release her on bail

In this courtroom sketch, Meng Wanzhou, right, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, sits beside a translator during a bail hearing at British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver, on December 7, 2018. (Jane Wolsak/The Canadian Press via AP)
In this courtroom sketch, Meng Wanzhou, right, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, sits beside a translator during a bail hearing at British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver, on December 7, 2018. (Jane Wolsak/The Canadian Press via AP)

A Canadian former diplomat has been detained in China, the think tank where he now works said Tuesday, amid Beijing’s outrage over the arrest of a senior technology executive.

The International Crisis Group said it was aware of reports of the detention of Michael Kovrig, a Chinese-speaking expert who served as a Canadian diplomat in Beijing, Hong Kong, and at the United Nations.

“We are doing everything possible to secure additional information on Michael’s whereabouts as well as his prompt and safe release,” the think tank said in a statement.

Kovrig went to work last year for the International Crisis Group, which is known for its research on peaceful solutions to global conflicts.

Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig who was detained by China on December 11, 2018. (Courtesy/Crisis Group)

There was no official word from China but the detention comes as Beijing voices anger over Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of leading technology company Huawei.

Meng was stopped while changing planes in Vancouver on an extradition request from the United States, where prosecutors allege she violated US sanctions on Iran.

China earlier Tuesday warned that it would not tolerate any “bullying” of its citizens abroad and has demanded Meng’s release.

A Canadian judge will weigh Tuesday whether to release Meng who was arrested on December 1 in Vancouver on US fraud charges related to sanctions-breaking dealings with Iran, infuriating China.

This third day of court deliberations was to focus on her proposed release plan. The judge was expected to render a decision, but could push it to a later date.

Meng has agreed to surrender her passports and submit to electronic monitoring if she is released, pending the outcome of the extradition case.

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou (Courtesy)

“Given her unique profile as the face of a Chinese corporate national champion, if she were to flee or breach her order in any way in these very unique circumstances, it does not overstate to say she would embarrass China itself,” Meng’s lawyer David Martin told the court on Monday.

Meng also said in a 55-page affidavit that she’d suffered numerous health problems, including surgery for thyroid cancer in 2011, and has been treated in a Vancouver hospital for hypertension since her arrest.

“I wish to remain in Vancouver to contest my extradition and I will contest the allegations at trial in the US if I am ultimately surrendered,” she said.

Canadian Crown prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley has asked for bail to be denied, saying Meng faces serious criminal accusations of fraud and poses a flight risk.

Meng is specifically accused of lying to bankers about the use of a covert subsidiary to sell to Iran in breach of sanctions.

If convicted, she faces more than 30 years in prison. The extradition process could take months, even years, if appeals are made in the case.

China warns against bullying

Meng’s detention has raised tensions following a truce in the US-China trade war, with Beijing summoning both the Canadian and US ambassadors over the weekend.

In a sign that the criminal case has not derailed the trade respite, top Chinese and US negotiators held telephone talks on Tuesday to discuss the timetable of trade talks, the Chinese commerce ministry said.

It said in a statement that Vice Premier Liu He spoke with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Ada Yu, left, of Vancouver and a man who wished to remain unidentified, hold a sign in favor of the release of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou outside her bail hearing at British Columbia Superior Courts, following her December 1 arrest in Canada for extradition to the US in Vancouver, British Columbia, on December 10, 2018. (Jason Redmond / AFP)

At the same time, however, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned against the “bullying” of its citizens.

China has accused Canada of treating Meng in an “inhumane” manner, citing reports in Chinese state-run media alleging she was not given adequate medical care.

Beijing has also claimed that the Chinese embassy was not immediately notified of her arrest and warned of “grave consequences” if Meng was not immediately released.

“The safety and security of Chinese compatriots are our priority, China will never sit idly by and ignore any bullying that violates the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a speech in Beijing, without directly referring to the Huawei case.

“We will fully safeguard the legitimate rights of Chinese citizens and return fairness and justice to the world,” he said at the opening of a diplomatic symposium.

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