Could China successfully invade Mexico without interference
The US is urging Canada to arrest a prominent Chinese woman. China is taking revenge. A hostage drama
Two years ago Canada got caught between the lines of the American-Chinese rivalry. Since then, China has been putting Canada under pressure. How is Canada getting out of this dilemma?
Cathay Pacific flight CX838 from Hong Kong lands at Vancouver Airport at 11:13 a.m. on December 1, 2018. It's 17 minutes early. Meng Wanzhou is one of the first to get out - a benefit for business class passengers. Meng Wanzhou is the chief financial officer of Huawei, the largest telecommunications equipment company in the world. The 46-year-old Chinese woman wears dark trousers, white sneakers and a white shirt. Loose travel clothes, because Meng just wants to change trains and fly on to Mexico.
But after she gave her passport to the border police, she was taken to another room. She has to hand over her two cell phones, her tablet and her laptop. Officials search their luggage. When she goes to the bathroom, she is accompanied by a female officer. "How much longer will that take?" She asks after a while. This is what an official later noted. It takes three hours for Meng to learn that the United States is demanding her extradition. The accusation: fraud. In August 2013 she is said to have deceived the bank HSBC about the control of Huawei over a subsidiary. That subsidiary is accused of violating US sanctions against Iran. A Canadian police officer handcuffs Meng.
Very few people outside of China are still familiar with the name Meng Wanzhou. Nobody knows yet that their arrest will plunge Canada into the deepest foreign policy crisis since World War II.
On this December morning, Canada becomes the scene of one of the most important geopolitical conflicts of our time: the battle for technological supremacy between China and the United States. Canada gets caught between the fronts and is faced with the question: How can a single country assert its interests and values against an increasingly aggressive China?
Michael Kovrig's last day off
From a Chinese perspective, the situation is clear: Meng's arrest is a politically motivated stunt by a US henchman. Beijing is threatening Canada with consequences several times if Meng is not released immediately. The Canadian ambassador to China, John Mc Callum, has to go to the State Department. When the lecture doesn’t work, China comes up with rougher guns.
December 10, 2018 is Michael Kovrig's last day free. The former Canadian diplomat is in China as an East Asia advisor to the NGO International Crisis Group to meet high-level officials. The supremacy of the tech group Huawei and the arrest of Meng Wanzhou are preoccupying the 46-year-old Kovrig. He comments on this several times on Twitter. The day before his arrest, he shared an article in the Washington Post. The opinion of a Republican MP, quoted in the text, that China is trying to achieve world domination by deceit is shared by more and more people, tweeted Kovrig. It's his last tweet.
Chinese security forces intercept Kovrig in front of his accommodation in Beijing around 10 p.m. It's an icy night. The officers lead him away. At the time, Kovrig does not know what he is being accused of and that he will not see any more daylight for an indefinite period of time. The police take him to a facility run by the Ministry of State Security. This is what Kovrig's wife Vina Nadjibulla says on the phone - but she does not know the details of the arrest. The Chinese authorities refuse to release the police reports.
The Chinese government informed Canada on December 11th that Michael Kovrig had been arrested. You accuse him of endangering national security. A day later, China announced that it had arrested another Canadian. The entrepreneur and North Korea specialist Michael Spavor was intercepted by the security authorities shortly before he was about to fly to Seoul. The accusation is the same: endangering national security.
The Canadian media now speak of the "two Michaels". The two will spend six months in solitary confinement. They sit in narrow cells, there is no bed. The light is on 24 hours a day. They have to answer questions from the security authorities for up to eight hours a day. You are allowed to speak to a Canadian diplomatic representative for 30 minutes once a month. Only after a year do they get brief access to lawyers, as reported by the Canadian newspaper “The Globe and Mail”. Then the pandemic will cut them off from all outside access.
How China is forcing other countries to change their behavior
For experts it is clear: the arrest of the two Canadians is the Chinese carriage back for the imprisonment of Meng - hostage diplomacy. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) speaks of “coercive diplomacy”, “diplomacy through coercive measures”. This also includes threats, economic sanctions, and travel restrictions. In doing so, China is trying to force other countries to change their behavior.
In a new study, authors of the ASPI come to the conclusion that the Chinese Communist Party has used this tactic a hundred times against 27 countries and the EU in the past ten years. The frequency has increased sharply since 2018. Often the coercive measures are successful: Norway, for example, had to give in. The country had been punished by Beijing for the fact that the Nobel Prize Committee - which decides independently of the government - awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize to the Chinese writer and system critic Liu Xiaobo.
China is now using similar methods to force Canada to release Meng. Because Meng is not just any Chinese. Her father is the founder of Huawei and billionaire Ren Zhengfei. Huawei employees have sometimes called Meng a little mocking since their arrest Gongzhu, the princess. Huawei is the largest private company in China, one of the first to achieve global success. Andy Mok, technology and geopolitics analyst at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, said on the phone: “In China, Huawei is a national champion. The company stands for the future of China. "
In Canada, the future of China is on trial
In 2018 the trade conflict between the US and China escalated. The campaign against Huawei is at the center of the technology contest. Taking action against Huawei's CFO in person instead of against the company is unusual and shows that the US wanted to "strategically paralyze a rival," says Mok.
With Meng's arrest, Canada is in danger of being wiped out between the two great powers. “Canada will pay for its bad behavior,” commented the nationalist Chinese newspaper “Global Times” on December 12, 2018. On that day, Meng actually had reason to celebrate.
The Vancouver court will decide on December 12, 2018 whether Meng will be released on bail. She looks thin in the green coach of the women's prison in Vancouver, as the reporter from the Canadian television broadcaster Jason Proctor will later recall. A cell phone rang again and again in the courtroom. Meng knows the melody of the ringtone. It is the Chinese national anthem.
The court ruled in Meng's favor. When she left the courtroom through a side door five hours later - it was already dark - there was a flash of lightning from all sides. Her face lights up when she looks briefly into the camera, slowly turning her back on the hustle and bustle, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. Canada has realized how famous, how important it is. It was as if Sheryl Sandberg, the top manager of Facebook, was on trial, her lawyer had said. Reporters shout questions to her, but Meng remains silent.
Later that evening, Meng shared an advertising poster from Huawei on her private WeChat account, the post was copied to Weibo, the Chinese Twitter counterpart, and reached 380 million people there. The photo shows the foot of a dancing ballerina, plus the sentence “Behind size is suffering”.
An electronic GPS tracker now hangs on Meng's ankle. The cost of the deposit: 10 million Canadian dollars, the equivalent of almost 7 million Swiss francs. She has to spend the nights in one of her two villas in Vancouver. During the day she is allowed to move freely, but not leave the province of British Columbia. Meng can regularly see her husband, her then ten-year-old daughter and her mother. She is allowed to receive Huawei managers and friends.
On the day Meng is released on bail, American President Trump speaks on the subject. He would intervene in the case against the Huawei chief financial officer if this would help to conclude a trade deal with China, Trump told Reuters. Trump's remark makes it clear to China that Meng's arrest was politically motivated. That Canada has made itself an accomplice to the United States. In addition to the two Michaels, the Chinese authorities are temporarily arresting 13 other Canadians, according to the Canadian government. Four others are sentenced to death for drug trafficking.
"What happened to Canada could also happen to Switzerland"
For the former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, this is the biggest crisis in the 50-year history of Sino-Canadian relations. Both countries are closely linked economically and culturally: China is Canada's second most important trading partner after the USA. 1.8 million Chinese live in Canada. 300,000 Canadians live in Hong Kong.
At the same time, China has great influence in Canada. As early as 1999, a report by the Canadian police and intelligence services concluded that Chinese agents, criminal gangs and business leaders were trying to influence Canadian politicians, steal technology and buy up companies. 200 Canadian businessmen were controlled by China, at least two cabinet ministers were financially supported, the report said. The allegations were never further investigated. The then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien did not want to endanger relations with China, write the authors Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg in their book "Lautlose Eroberung".
When Meng Wanzhouse was arrested, the previously close relationship was broken. In March 2019, China banned the import of Canadian rapeseed, and three months later, China blocked all pork deliveries from Canada. The damage to Canadian agriculture amounts to over a billion Canadian dollars.
"What happened to Canada could also happen to Switzerland," says Guy Saint-Jacques in an interview. This assessment is shared in Swiss diplomatic circles. For example, before each visit by the Dalai Lama, Switzerland must weigh up whether China would tolerate this, says a diplomat from the NZZ in confidence. China's moves are difficult to predict. Whenever Swiss diplomats or politicians criticized China in the past - such as when Ignazio Cassis questioned China's Hong Kong policy in August - China responded immediately. «The statements are rejected as interference in internal affairs. It is argued that China is a constitutional state, ”says the diplomat. Most of these statements are accompanied by threatening additions, such as that Switzerland has over a hundred companies in Hong Kong.
16 minutes, 47 seconds. That is how long Michael Kovrig can call his family on March 12, 2020. It is day 459 of his imprisonment and he is caught off guard by the call. "V, is that you?" Asks Kovrig when he hears his wife's voice for the first time since his arrest. She has been his closest confidante since he met Vina Nadjibulla in an economics lecture at Columbia University in New York. Nadjibulla fought to ensure that Kovrig was allowed to speak to his sick father, as she would later on the NZZ tells. Michael Kovrig's voice breaks when he asks his father about his operation. The father has recovered well.
In monthly letters to his family, Michael Kovrig describes the conditions in the prison in southern Beijing, to which he was taken after six months of solitary confinement. Now he shares a cell, three by three meters, with up to three other men. The social contact is good for him. Kovrig, who is already fluent in Mandarin, continues to learn Chinese. He reads Tolstoy's War and Peace and watches the same films over and over again. Few foreign productions pass the Chinese censorship. He has already seen "Mary Poppins" four times.
In the summer of 2020, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor will be formally charged with espionage. The Chinese authorities accuse them of stealing state secrets. Maximum penalty: death.
Is Canada's government doing enough to save the two Michaels?
The miraculous walk of Justin Trudeau
No, say critics. Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg write in their book “Lautlose Eroberung” that Canada fell into a state of shock after the arrest of Meng Wanzhou: “Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor had the great misfortune that the government of their country was led by a man, who was not ready to face China. "
But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a change in the past two years since the crisis began. While his government initially sought to negotiate and appease China, Trudeau's tone has recently become sharper. He criticized China's policies in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and openly described the arrest of the two Michaels as forced diplomacy. His defense minister, Harjit Sajjan, goes one step further and accuses China of hostage diplomacy. Ottawa seems to have come to the conclusion that niceties are getting Canada no further in this crisis.
"Canada has done what it could behind the scenes," says extradition attorney Don Bayne in an interview, who also represents the interests of Michael Kovrig's wife. But Canada's real political opportunities are low. Canada could do little on its own against great powers like China and the USA. The two Michaels would not be released until the Canadian judge refuses Meng's extradition, says Bayne.
The pandemic has a firm grip on Vancouver. Masks cover the mouths and noses, "social distancing" is the catchphrase of the hour. Not for the woman who gets out of the black SUV in the evening on Saturday, May 23, 2020, walks up the steps to the Supreme Court of British Columbia, huddles between family and friends, holds a thumbs up, grins. For a second picture, Meng Wanzhou hugs her friend, together the women look at the screen of a cell phone, it must be from Huawei. Does the hairstyle fit? The photographer kneels down. It lightens.
At one point Meng pulls up her black designer dress with it on the Jimmy Choo stilettos the GPS tracker becomes visible on the ankle. This is what the reporter from the TV station CBC, Jason Proctor, told the NZZ later. He secretly observes the scene, someone gave him a tip in advance. Meng and her friends form a V with their index and middle fingers, smile one last time for the camera before scurrying back into the SUV. In four days the court will decide whether the US indictment against Meng is also criminal in Canada. It's Meng's first real chance at freedom. She is obviously confident of victory.
But it turns out differently. Meng's lawyers fail to argue that violating American sanctions against Iran is not a criminal offense in Canada. It's a major setback for Meng. But their lawyers continue to fight. You argue that the US abused the process. Meng has the best lawyers in Canada by her side. You could be at large in the spring of 2021, says extradition negotiating attorney Bayne.
But even if Meng were released, that would not automatically mean the release of the two Michaels, says lawyer Bayne. That would be too plain an admission that the two Canadians were only arrested to free Meng. Bayne therefore suspects that China would stage a show trial to convict the two Michaels. And then let her go on humanitarian grounds.
Canada does not want to be blackmailed, but a "secret deal" gives hope
In Canada, under the leadership of Kovrig's wife, high-ranking politicians and diplomats are in favor of an exchange of prisoners. The Chinese Foreign Ministry made an unequivocal offer to Ottawa at the end of June. Releasing Meng Wanzhou would "help solve the problem for the two Canadian citizens," a spokesman said.
The Trudeau government refused to exchange prisoners. "We cannot allow political pressure or the arbitrary arrest of Canadian citizens to affect the functioning of our legal system," Trudeau told the media. If its government bows to the pressure, China knows that Canada can be blackmailed.
Michael Kovrig's wife, Vina Nadjibulla, is meanwhile looking for other solutions to free her husband. The election of Joe Biden as President of the United States gives them new hope. Experts assume that Biden will accept the decision of the Canadian judiciary, even if Meng should be released.
But Meng could close a deal before Joe Biden takes office that guarantees her return to China.Meng Wanzhou's lawyers negotiated with the US Department of Justice, reported the Wall Street Journal on December 4, 2020, referring to anonymous sources. If the two parties come to an agreement, Meng will be allowed to return to China if she accepts parts of the allegations against her, according to the report. So far, Meng has held onto her innocence. Should it come to the deal anyway, it could also help Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
Meng Wanzhou writes after her first year in the golden cage: “As winter sets in, I can watch the dense forests begin to turn the hills around me into deep crimson. The beauty of nature is clear to everyone who looks. "
Michael Kovrig would like to see this nature with his own eyes. In his letters he philosophizes about the tall trees in the forest. But Kovrig is not allowed to go outside. He has not breathed fresh air for two years.
Christmas will likely be a day like any other for Michael Kovrig since his arrest. He will be woken up at 6:30 a.m. He'll roll up his mattress, put his belongings - a cup and a plate - in the corner, and do a few laps in his cell. He runs 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day. Then he will try to stay in the forearm rest as long as possible. He can manage up to 20 minutes, he writes in his letters to his family.
Only dinner that day may differ from the daily prison diet. Last Christmas, instead of rice with vegetables, there were two deep-fried chicken legs from the fast-food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken.
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