WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States and Canada on Friday (Dec 14) promised a fair judicial process for a Chinese executive arrested in Vancouver on a US request, as they appealed to Beijing to free two Canadians held in apparent retaliation.
Foreign ministers and defence chiefs of the neighbours met in the US capital as Canada increasingly looks like collateral damage in a simmering US-China trade war, with Beijing at the same time working to ease trade tensions with Washington.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said authorities were acting “scrupulously” in the detention of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecoms behemoth Huawei whom Washington wants extradited for allegedly violating US sanctions on Iran.
“We all agree that the most important thing we can do is uphold the rule of law, ensure that Ms Meng’s right to due process is respected and that the current judicial process in Canada remains apolitical,” she told a joint news conference.
Freeland repeatedly said that Canada “is a rule-of-law country” that responded properly to an extradition request.
“In Canada, there has been to this point no political interference in this issue at all,” she said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was also “respecting the rule of law each step along the way” as it seeks Meng.
China, however, has said that Canada and the United States overstepped their authority and that Meng, who was arrested while changing planes in Vancouver, broke no laws.
Canada’s fears of repercussions have turned out to be well-founded as China has since detained two Canadians on suspicion of “harm to national security” – a phrase often used by Beijing when alleging espionage.
The Canadians are Michael Spavor, a China-based consultant who arranges visits for foreigners including NBA star Dennis Rodman to North Korea, and Michael Kovrig, a Mandarin-speaking former Canadian diplomat who works for the International Crisis Group, a think-tank.
“The unlawful detention of two Canadian citizens is unacceptable and they ought to be returned,” Pompeo said.
Freeland called the release of the two men “a huge priority” for Canada.
“We’ll always advocate strongly and fiercely for Canadian citizens when they are detained abroad,” she said.
Meng, who stands accused of misleading US investors on Huawei’s operations in Iran, is out on bail of Can$10 million (S$10.5 million).
Her arrest comes as Pompeo leads a campaign to squeeze Iran’s economy to curtail the Islamic republic’s influence across the Middle East.
He has vowed to press all countries, friend or foe, to cut off business with Iran.
CHINA TRADE RIFT EASES
Even as China is seen as punishing Canada, it has appeared to pull its punches with the United States and moved ahead on a trade truce negotiated with President Donald Trump.
China said Friday it would suspend extra tariffs on US-made cars and auto parts for three months from Jan 1.
The move follows an accord between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping – reached on the sidelines of a summit in Buenos Aires on Dec 1, the very day Meng was arrested – to hold off on new tariffs set to take effect in the new year and instead start negotiations on trade concerns.
Trump hailed the auto move, saying Beijing was taking action because tariffs he unveiled in recent months had caused China’s economy to slow.
“China wants to make a big and very comprehensive deal. It could happen, and rather soon!” he tweeted.
Canada has also been on the receiving end of Trump’s unorthodox approach on trade. In June, Trump publicly criticised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak” for his statements on tariffs at a summit.
Freeland did not shy away from renewing Canada’s concerns.
She said US tariffs imposed on Canadian aluminum and steel, which Washington has justified on national security grounds, were “unjust and illegal.”