Francis Moriarty: China admits the Huawei link


WILLIAMSTOWN — Whenever China is blamed for violating trade rules, human rights or international agreements, its go-to defense is to charge the accusing government of having done exactly the same thing itself. It's the "you-say-one-thing-but-you-do-another" defense. In short, Beijing says: "Don't point fingers. You're no different than we are."

It's a paradoxical strategy, when you think about it, because it's tacitly admits guilt while seeking to tar the accuser with the same brush. But contradiction doesn't bother Chinese officials, who have ample venues in which to play the hypocrisy card, as well as an army of mainland media workers whose job depends on lobbing softball questions that officials can then swat out of the park.

A textbook example is the developing case of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the electronics giant Huawei. She was taken into custody by Canada on Dec. 1 at the request of the U.S., which wants her to stand trial on charges of conspiring to violate international sanctions on Iran.

According to Canadian news reports, Meng posted bail of more than 7.5 million U.S. dollars and has been under house surveillance in a posh neighborhood of Vancouver.

Within days after Canada took Meng into custody, China retaliated by arresting two Canadians, diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, on national security grounds. A third Canadian already jailed in China, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, suddenly had his jail term on drug charges reviewed and was sentenced to death.


Last Friday, at the 11th hour, the Canadian government gave the green light letting an extradition proceeding against Meng go ahead. She had been in Canadian custody for three months and on the last day that it could legally do so, the government in Ottawa agreed that an extradition inquiry could proceed.

On Monday, China responded to Canada's action by raising the stakes even higher.

The official Xinhua news agency said that Kovrig and Spavor were being charged with conspiring to steal state secrets. Kovrig, Beijing alleged, had been "severely violating" the law by spying and stealing state secrets over the past two years.

Citing unnamed officials, Xinhua said Kovrig had been using ordinary passports and businesss visas. He was working as a senior adviser for the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation. Spavor is a businessman based in Dandong, a city near the North Korean border.

Beijing orginally asserted that the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor were not linked to the Meng case, but by its timing Beijing has scrapped that fiction.

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Sanction violations are the official reason, but not the only one, that Meng is of interest to Washington.

Huawei — the world's largest electronics firm and number-two maker of smart phones — is developing 5G, a new generation wireless network that in theory could move data at speeds 20 times greater than the current 4G system that your smartphone uses. Some experts predict that 5G will usher changes even greater than the Industrial Revolution. Whoever develops and controls that system is going to play a dominant role those changes.

Inaddition to maintaining its technological advantage, the U.S. also has national security concerns. Officials worry that a Huawei-designed system could contain design features that would make hacking easier and allow back-door entry into systems running on 5G.

Washington's concern is underlined by the fact that Huawei's founder, billionaire Ren Zhengfei, began as an information technology expert working for the Chinese military. The U.S. is not alone in having worries about Huawei. Britain and India have similar concerns. Ren, by the way, is Meng's father.

Ren — whose family was originally aligned with the Nationalist (Kuomintang) party that was overthrown by the Communists — has been quoted as saying that he would not bend to the wishes of the Communist Party.

There is much that his daughter could tell U.S. investigators should she ever end up in their hands. Meng is to appear in the Supreme Court of British Columbia next Wednesday to set a date for an extradition hearing. Her lawyers assert her innocence, charging that the U.S. effort to extradite her for prosecution is an abuse of the legal process.


This defense is consistent with China's accusation that America itself violates the rule of law while claiming to defend the rule of law — a charge it now also levels at Canada. That's because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has handed Beijing a stick — the SNC-Lavalin affair involving accusations of politician interference within the prime minister's office — with which to beat his government on the issue of judicial independence. Canada's attorney general has just quit, accusing Trudeau of pressuring her to drop a prosecution against the company because it would have economic consequences. In short, that Trudeau wanted to intervene in the judicial process for political reasons.

When a reporter from a state news organ helpfully asked China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang if Trudeau was being contradictory regarding the Meng and SNC-Lavalin cases, Lu replied that he really liked this question and it ought to be put to the Canadian government.

Meng is not under imminent threat of extradition. She has various avenues of appeal and the means to pursue them. Some extradition proceedings in Canada have dragged on for more than a decade— far, far longer than China's judicial system would ever require to dispose of its caseload.

Francis Moriarty is a former senior political correspondent for Radio Television Hong Kong, a public broadcaster, and has reported from across the Asian region.


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