09/21/2021 – Hostage Diplomacy rears its head in Beijing, as Meng Wanzhou case reaches a close

Posted on Sep 21, 2021

By Jianli Yang – September 21, 2021

On 19th August, 2021, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Hua Chunying made a statement, asserting the country’s stance on the arrest of Meng Wanzhou. According to her, Beijing has urged the Canadian Government to “immediately correct its mistakes and release” the Huawei Chief Financial officer. The statement was made after Meng’s extradition hearing in Canada was closed, with no date fixed for the delivery of the verdict. 


Meng Wanzhou’s arrest has become a major point of contention between China, US and Canada. Meng was detained upon arrival in Vancouver International Airport by Canadian Border Services Agency on suspicion of fraud, and later arrested due to an extradition request from the US to Canada, with charges that included bank fraud. According to reports, her extradition was demanded due to allegations laid against Meng, that she cleared money that was under the name of Huawei, but used it for a subsidiary called Skycom to evade US sanctions on Iran between 2009 and 2014. 


China has maintained that the arrest of Meng Wanzhou was a ‘political incident’; Hua Chunying asserted further that the case was “was created by the U.S. government out of nothing but as attempts to suppress China’s hi-tech companies and thwart China’s progress in science and technology.” Her arrest in Chinese State Media was deemed “arbitrary”, and Canada called an accomplice of the US for her “illegal detention”. According to them, the arrest itself is invalid since Canada had not put any sanctions against Iran at the time, and thus had no right to detain her. Beijing has also questioned Canada about following “due process” and “human rights.” It should be noted that the original detention was made due to a question of fraud, which is a crime in Canada as well; it need not have been in relation with the Iran sanctions, but was due to misrepresentation of a firm’s ownership to clear money from bank, which amounts to bank fraud.


Interestingly, the case ran almost simultaneously to several other trials happening in China, this time against a former diplomat and an entrepreneur. Canadian businessman Michael Spavor, and Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig were detained by China in 2018, and have been tried and convicted by the Dandong court recently for ‘spying and illegal provision of state secrets abroad’. In their statement, Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in jail, and confiscation of around USD 7,700 worth of personal property, and deportation on an unspecified date. Most of the proceedings were of Closed-door nature; Canadian diplomats (including the charge d’affaires to China) were not even allowed within the courtroom.


What is interesting here is that details of Meng’s court proceedings have been made publicly available, and even as they have taken time, it is because every allegation made against the Canadian authorities has also been seriously considered. Any inconsistency in the prosecutors’ witness statements has been documented, recorded and made available for public view. While the case has gone on for over a “1000 days” as Chinese authorities lament, the due process has been followed in a transparent manner. She has also been granted partial bail, and is living in her residence with some reasonable restrictions. 


On the other hand, the Chinese conviction of Kovrig and Spavor clearly indicates what has been deemed as “hostage diplomacy”. Both were arrested within days of Meng Wanzhou, and neither of them were given a transparent trial. Further outrageously, a Canadian citizen, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, was sentenced to death almost concurrently to Meng’s last hearing. Schellenberg was detained in 2014 on charges of trafficking drugs, 225kg of methamphetamine in particular, to Australia. In 2018, he was brought to court and sentenced to 15 years in prison. 


A few days later, Meng was detained on an extradition warrant. China promised retribution, which came in an unexpected form in 2019, as Schellenberg’s appeal against his sentence resulted not in commuting his sentence, but in Dalian court raising it to death penalty instead. According to the court statement, his previous sentence had been ‘too light’ and there was evidence that proved that Schellenberg was involved ‘more seriously’ in international drug smuggling. According to his lawyer, there had been no new evidence presented to the court, so this sudden reconsideration in sentence should not have happened. Near the closing of Meng’s extradition trial, almost concurrently Schellenberg’s appeal against his death sentence was rejected within a single day of its hearing. Meanwhile, the calls by Canadian Diplomats for clemency for the Canadian citizen was met with ridicule and crass jokes and Chinese State media and state affiliated social media websites. 


These cases have painted drastically different pictures of legal processes in the two countries. On one hand, the Chinese appeal for basic due process and human rights in a Canadian courtroom which has been shown to hold fair, transparent proceedings. On the other, they themselves try to threaten and coerce the results of that trial by holding Canadian citizens’ hostage to their own opaque legal processes. While the Chinese “grieve” over how a court case is being political and unfairly detaining a person for over 1,000 days in comfort of her home, they deprive a person of their property, dignity, and even life by their own whims. That the Chinese judgements have run so close to the Meng case also indicate how little consideration for international norms for diplomacy they hold. For now, however, it is a waiting game to see how much further China is willing to go in order to prevent Meng from being tried for her original crime of fraudulent transaction. While the verdict for Spavor and Schellenberg has been announced, Korvig (the ex-diplomat) has not yet received any result on his trial. It is thus clear that the verdict of Meng’s trial will dictate the future for at least three people, and that Chinese hostage diplomacy will now set a visible precedent.