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China detains former Canadian diplomat days after arrest of Huawei executive

The Canadian flag. (Tony Webster/Flickr)
December 12, 2018

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Authorities in China have detained a former Canadian diplomat working for a think-tank, just days after police in Canada arrested the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies at Washington’s request.

“International Crisis Group is aware of reports that its North East Asia Senior Adviser, Michael Kovrig, has been detained in China,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We are doing everything possible to secure additional information on Michael’s whereabouts as well as his prompt and safe release,” it said.

Following the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on Saturday, Chinese vice foreign minister Le Yucheng summoned Canada’s ambassador to Beijing, John McCallum, warning him of “severe consequences” if Meng, 46, wasn’t immediately released.

Responding to the detention of a Huawei “principal” at the request of the U.S., the statement accused Canada of violating Meng’s rights and called for her release.

“Otherwise, there will be severe consequences, and Canada must bear the full responsibility,” the foreign ministry said in a statement at the time.

Meng, who faces possible extradition to the United States, was granted bail by a court in Vancouver on Tuesday, after agreeing to post $10 million and surrender her passports, wear an ankle bracelet and follow strict limits on where she lives and moves in the Canadian city, according to Canadian media reports from the hearing.

Kovrig had been working as a full-time expert for the International Crisis Group since February 2017 and had previously served as a Canadian diplomat in Beijing and Hong Kong, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government tried to quell a rising tide of questions over Meng’s possession of three of its passports, in apparent violation of the city’s immigration regulations.

While Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passport holders are only allowed to hold one passport at a time, “there will be occasions where a passport holder will apply for a new passport before the natural expiry date because of various circumstances, like the loss of the passport, or the change of personal particulars, or other specified circumstances,” the city’s chief executive told reporters on Tuesday.

“It is not uncommon for the passport holder to use a valid current passport, but at the same time in entering that particular country with visa requirements, to present the old passport with a valid visa,” Carrie Lam said.

“She has been issued a few passports over a period since she has obtained the Hong Kong Permanent Resident status because of the specified circumstances that I have explained, but at one point in time or at any point in time, she holds only one valid Hong Kong SAR passport,” she said.

But she said the “very special circumstances” surrounding the case had led her to order an investigation by Hong Kong’s immigration department.

Meng was found to hold a total of seven passports in all, including the Hong Kong ones, according to evidence presented at her ongoing bail hearing in Vancouver, reports said.

‘Not just the passport muddle’

Alvin Yeung, lawmaker for the pro-democracy Civic Party in Hong Kong, said the city’s government should follow up all aspects of Meng’s activities there, as they may have a bearing on the accusation that she facilitated the violation of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran via another company, Skycom.

“Actually, this whole thing isn’t just about the passport muddle; it also involves the U.S. accusation that Meng Wanzhou used Hong Kong shell companies to conduct transactions with Iran,” Yeung told RFA on Tuesday.

“Owing to Hong Kong’s position as an open and international financial hub, the HKSAR government should be watching very closely,” he said.

He said any perception by foreign governments or investors that Hong Kong has “loopholes” that are too easily exploited by people carrying out illegal transactions could have a substantial impact on the city’s international reputation.

“I think the Hong Kong SAR government should follow this up and take concrete actions to restore international confidence,” Yeung said. “I don’t think the chief executive can just sit on her hands and wait for the Chinese foreign ministry to follow up on this.”

Beijing-based scholar Sun Daping said the ruling Chinese Communist Party only has one way of responding to Meng’s detention.

“The Chinese authorities are playing such a high-profile role in the case of Meng Xiazhou, because actually they are also under pressure from domestic nationalist sentiment, both within the system and in patriotic organizations,” Sun said.

“The authorities have been igniting this nationalism in recent years, so now they can only continue to play this role and spout nonsense with their eyes closed in the case of Meng Wanzhou,” he said.

China’s foreign minister warned Tuesday against the “bullying” of any Chinese citizen.

“The safety and security of Chinese compatriots are our priority, China will never sit idly by and ignore any bullying that violates the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens,” foreign minister Wang Yi said, without mentioning Meng or Huawei directly.

“We will fully safeguard the legitimate rights of Chinese citizens and return fairness and justice to the world,” he told a diplomatic symposium.

China has accused Canada of treating Meng in an “inhumane” manner, citing reports in Chinese state-run media alleging she was not given adequate medical care, Reuters reported.

Reported by Tam Siu-yin for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Shi Shan and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.