December 6, 2018 6:45 am
Updated: December 6, 2018 1:39 pm

China demands Canada release Huawei executive arrested at Vancouver airport

WATCH ABOVE: Court date set for Huawei CFO as arrest threatens trade war truce between U.S. and China

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China on Thursday demanded Canada release a Huawei Technologies executive who was arrested in a case that adds to technology tensions with Washington and threatens to complicate trade talks.

Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, faces possible extradition to the United States, according to Canadian authorities.

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A court hearing has been set for Friday, a Canadian Justice Department spokesman said. The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing law enforcement sources, said she is suspected of trying to evade U.S. trade curbs on Iran.

“Detaining the person involved with no explicit reason certainly harms her human rights,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. “Neither the US nor Canada has made any clarification on the reason for the detention so far.”

[China has] made clear its stern position to the Canadian side and the US side respectively on this, demanding them to immediately clarify the reason for the detention, immediately release the detainee,” Geng said.

READ MORE: Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou arrested in Vancouver, faces extradition to U.S.

The timing is awkward following the announcement of a U.S.-Chinese cease-fire in a tariff war over Beijing’s technology policy. Meng was detained in Vancouver on Saturday, the day U.S. Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping met in Argentina and announced their deal.

Stock markets tumbled on the news, fearing renewed U.S.-Chinese tensions that threaten global economic growth. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 2.5 per cent and the DAX in Germany sank 1.8 per cent.

WATCH: China calls on Canada, U.S. to release Huawei CFO after being arrested in Vancouver

A Chinese government statement said Meng broke no U.S. or Canadian laws and demanded Canada “immediately correct the mistake” and release her.

Beijing asked Washington and Ottawa to explain the reason for Meng’s arrest, said a foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang. He said arresting her without that violated her human rights.

But the Ministry of Commerce signalled Beijing wants to avoid disrupting progress toward settling a dispute with Washington over technology policy that has led them to raise tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s goods.

China is confident they can reach a trade deal during the 90 days that Trump agreed to suspend U.S. tariff hikes, said a ministry spokesman, Gao Feng.

WATCH: Huawei’s chief financial officer arrested in Vancouver

Huawei Technologies Ltd., the biggest global supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies, has been the target of deepening U.S. security concerns. Under Trump and his predecessor, Barack Obama, Washington has pressured European countries and other allies to limit use of its technology.

The United States sees Huawei and smaller Chinese tech suppliers as possible fronts for spying and as commercial competitors. The Trump administration says they benefit from improper subsidies and market barriers.

READ MORE: What is Huawei Technologies and why is the Chinese company so controversial?

Trump’s tariff hikes on Chinese imports stemmed from complaints Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology. But American officials also worry more broadly that Chinese plans for state-led creation of Chinese champions in robotics, artificial intelligence and other fields might erode U.S. industrial leadership.

“The United States is stepping up containment of China in all respects,” said Zhu Feng, an international relations expert at Nanjing University. He said targeting Huawei, one of its most successful companies, “will trigger anti-U.S. sentiment.”

READ MORE: U.S. senators urge Justin Trudeau to drop China’s Huawei from Canada’s upcoming 5G network

“The incident could turn out to be a breaking point,” Zhu said.

Last month, New Zealand blocked a mobile phone company from using Huawei equipment, saying it posed a “significant network security risk.” The company was banned in August from working on Australia’s fifth-generation network.

WATCH: During Question Period on Wednesday, the Opposition made a call to the Liberal government to ban China’s Huawei from Canada’s 5G network. 

On Wednesday, British phone carrier BT said it was removing Huawei equipment from the core of its mobile phone networks. It said Huawei still is a supplier of other equipment and a “valued innovation partner.”

The Wall Street Journal reported this year U.S. authorities are investigating whether Huawei violated sanctions on Iran. The Chinese government appealed to Washington to avoid any steps that might damage business confidence.

Huawei’s biggest Chinese rival, ZTE Corp., was nearly driven out of business this year when Washington barred it from buying U.S. technology over exports to North Korea and Iran. Trump restored access after ZTE agreed to pay a $1 billion fine, replace its executive team and embed a U.S.-chosen compliance team in the company.

WATCH: Canadian officials say response to potential retaliation over Huawei CFO arrest is proper security

Huawei is regarded as far stronger commercially than ZTE. Based in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, Huawei has the biggest research and development budget of any Chinese company and a vast portfolio of patents, making it less dependent on American suppliers.

Its growing smartphone brand is among the top three global suppliers behind Samsung Electronics and Apple Inc. by number of handsets sold.

READ MORE: Parliament’s foreign affairs committee cancels meeting with Chinese ambassador, lawmakers

Meng was changing flights in Canada when she was detained “on behalf of the United States of America” to face unspecified charges in New York, according to a Huawei statement.

“The company has been provided very little information regarding the charges and is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng,” the statement said.

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

Huawei said it complies with all laws and rules where it operates, including export controls and sanctions of the United Nations, the United States and European Union.

Meng’s arrest also threatened to inflame disagreements over Iran and Trump’s decision to break with other governments and re-impose sanctions over the country’s nuclear development.

WATCH: Trudeau says decision to ban Huawei 5G technology will be based on facts and evidence

Geng, the foreign ministry spokesman, said China objects to unilateral sanctions outside the United Nations. China has said it will continue to do business with Iran despite the possible threat of U.S. penalties.

Meng is a prominent member of China’s business world as deputy chairman of Huawei’s board and the daughter of its founder Ren Zhengfei, a former Chinese military engineer.

Despite that, her arrest is unlikely to derail trade talks, said Willy Lam, a politics specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

A shopper walks past a Huawei store at a shopping mall in Beijing Wednesday, July 4, 2018.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark Schiefelbein

“I think too much is at stake for Xi Jinping. He desperately wants a settlement,” said Lam.

Longer term, however, the case will reinforce official Chinese urgency about developing domestic technology suppliers to reduce reliance on the United States, said Lam.

Trump has “pulled out all the stops” to hamper Chinese ambitions to challenge the United States as a technology leader, Lam said. That includes imposing limits on visas for Chinese students to study science and technology.

“If the Chinese need further convincing, this case would show them beyond doubt Trump’s commitment,” said Lam.

WATCH: Canada yet to block 5G technology from China’s Huawei

David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said U.S. and Canadian business executives could face reprisals in China.

“That’s something we should be watching out for. It’s a possibility. China plays rough,” Mulroney said. “It’s a prominent member of their society and it’s a company that really embodies China’s quest for global recognition as a technology power.”

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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