In December of last year, political prisoner Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of the Chinese tech company Huawei appeared before a Canadian court where she was granted bail after US authorities indicated that they seek her extradition due to politicised allegations regarding her company’s supposed trade with Iran (something which in any case is perfectly legal under Chinese, Iranian and Canadian law). Crucially, Canadian Judge William Ehrcke stated during the hearing that if the US does not present Canada with an extradition request by the 8th of January, Meng must be freed by the Canadian authorities. As no extradition request appears to have been made by the 8th of January (certainly not to the public’s knowledge), this explicitly means that the further detention of Meng, even whilst on bail, is a blatant violation of Judge Ehrcke’s order.
Now though, as Chinese journalist Li Qingqing points out, Meng’s fate hinges not only on the whims of US officials but on the fact that the prolonged US government shut down has likewise shut down the US Justice Department which would normally be responsible for issuing an extradition request.
The self-evident reason underlying Meng’s detention was an attempt by actors in Washington to gain leverage against Beijing in the current round of trade talks. Of course, this attitude completely misjudged China’s response. While China has vowed to pursue Meng’s freedom without hesitation and will punish those responsible in a proportional manner, China is also able to compartmentalise its relations with multiple nations across areas of agreement as well as areas of severe disagreements. Therefore, while the US wanted to use Meng as a pawn in the trade war, China refuses to allow Meng’s captivity to negatively influence Beijing’s long term goals of opening up its economy to more goods and capital from around the world – including from the United States, assuming that the US agrees to end the trade war of its own making.
But while China’s compartmentalisation of relations with all of its partners ranging from all weather friends like Pakistan to those with more difficult relations like India and the US, was seemingly lost on those who ordered Meng’s unlawful detention, what is even more troubling is that it appears likely that Donald Trump was not even aware of Meng’s unlawful detention until well after the fact.
While both Canadian and US authorities initially claimed that Meng’s detention was a judicially rather than a politically motivated action, US National Security Adviser John Bolton changed the story by later claiming that Meng’s detention was a geo-political issue of national security and one that was coordinated between an overtly politicised intelligence/security sector and judicial officials. Bolton (a political figure) then admitted that he was aware of what was being planned even before Meng was seized at an airport in western Canada. Days later, Donald Trump let the cat fully out of the bag when he stated that if the US and China reach what he considers a favourable trade deal, he may order Meng to be set free. All of this must have left a great deal of egg on Justin Trudeau’s face after his government ran out of the gates claiming that Meng’s detention was completely apolitical.
Thus, one faces a situation where the US Justice Department cannot provide China clarity over its plans for Meng whist at the same time Canada has not yet freed Meng in spite of a court order to do so if the 8th of January passes with no extradition request being presented. Meanwhile, as John Bolton becomes ever more embroiled in a row with the Turkish government, it appears that it was he who was ultimately responsible for Meng’s detention while Donald Trump was not even informed straight away.
Taken as a whole, an innocent woman and mother awaits her long overdue freedom because of a combination of maliciousness and incompetence from a US government that even before it became technically inoperable, was deeply divided against itself. This is a clearly unacceptable situation that has been made all the more troubling due to the fact that an innocent woman is paying the price for Washington’s internal problems.