VANCOUVER/BEIJING (REUTERS) – Canada confirmed on Tuesday (Dec 11) that one of its citizens was detained in China but said it saw no explicit connection to the arrest in Vancouver of a top executive at Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies.
Confirmation of the detention came soon after the executive, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, returned to a packed Vancouver courtroom for a bail hearing in a case that has angered Beijing.
Canadian analysts had predicted China would retaliate after Meng’s arrest last week at the request of US authorities.
Meng, 46, faces US accusations that she misled multinational banks about Huawei’s control of a company operating in Iran, putting the banks at risk of violating US sanctions and incurring severe penalties, court documents said.
Saying he was “deeply concerned,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale confirmed that Canada was aware a Canadian citizen was detained in China, but he provided no details on who it was.
Goodale said there was “no explicit indication at this moment” that the Canadian’s detention was linked to the arrest of Huawei’s CFO. Canadian officials have relayed their concerns to Chinese authorities about the detention.
The Canadian foreign ministry issued a statement saying the government “is seized with this case”. A source directly familiar with the matter said this language was unusual for consular cases and showed a high level of concern.
Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig was the person detained, two sources had said earlier. Kovrig works for the International Crisis Group, an independent conflict resolution think-tank which said it was seeking his prompt and safe release.
China has threatened severe consequences unless Canada releases Meng immediately. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the matter is one for the courts to decide.
China’s Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Public Security did not respond immediately to questions regarding Kovrig’s detention sent via fax.
Tuesday is the third day of bail hearings in a British Columbia court, where a judge will weigh final issues in determining whether Meng should be freed on bail while awaiting extradition proceedings.
Canadian businesses operating in China are starting to feel the chill, and the signing of one major deal has been postponed, a source said.
“The consequences have already begun,” the source said, noting that a Canadian firm had been due to ink a major agreement in the next few weeks.
“The local partner, a Chinese private-sector actor, has told the Canadian partner that now is not a good time to sign,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.
BEIJING WARNS ON ‘BULLYING’
Speaking at a Beijing forum on Tuesday, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said the government kept constant watch on the safety of citizens abroad, though he did not specifically mention Meng’s case.
“For any bullying that wantonly violates the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens, China will never sit idly by,” state television quoted him as saying.
The Canadian provincial court judge on Monday rolled the proceedings over to Tuesday because he wanted to hear more about who would take responsibility for Meng’s actions if she were released. Meng’s lawyer David Martin had offered her husband as surety, but the judge and the public prosecutor questioned whether he could perform this duty as he is not a resident of British Columbia.
The arrest has roiled markets over fears it will exacerbate tensions between the United States and China in trade negotiations that both sides have agreed must be concluded by March 1.
In June 2014, Chinese businessman Su Bin was picked up on a US warrant in Canada, where he had been attempting to establish residency. Shortly afterward a Canadian citizen in China was arrested and charged with spying. Kevin Garratt spent two years in detention before being deported.
Huawei is the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment and second-biggest maker of smartphones, with revenue of about US$92 billion (S$126 billion) last year.
Unlike other big Chinese technology firms, it does much of its business overseas. Huawei and its lawyers have said the company operates in strict compliance with applicable laws.