Failure to ban Huawei turning business decision into ‘hostage negotiation’: former CSIS official

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Diplomatic standoff with China could have been avoided: former CSIS operative
WATCH: The Canadian government is now in a difficult diplomatic position because of its delayed decision on whether to ban Huawei, says Andy Ellis, a former assistant director of operations at CSIS – Jan 20, 2019

Refusal to act decisively in banning Huawei before the arrest of its CFO,  Meng Wanzhou, has turned a business decision into a “hostage negotiation,” according to one former senior CSIS official.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Andy Ellis, a former senior official with CSIS, said that while he thinks the government is handling the detentions of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — who have been held by the Chinese government since last month — the best it can, Canada’s failure to ban Huawei when its allies did has only made those cases harder to resolve.

READ MORE: Canada vows to stand its ground as China threatens ‘repercussions’ over Huawei restrictions

“We’ve gotten ourselves into a difficult situation,” said Ellis, who is vice-president of corporate strategy at the intelligence analysis firm EVNTL.

“Had we made the decision on the 5G when everybody else did, we wouldn’t be the lone person standing out. We would’ve survived this thing and we would have been part of the wave that did this before,” he explained.

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“Whenever a situation is delayed, you’re going to get yourself into situations like this, and I think the government could have done a lot better.”

WATCH BELOW: Goodale provides no timeline on Canada banning Huawei

Click to play video: 'Goodale provides no timeline on Canada banning Huawei'
Goodale provides no timeline on Canada banning Huawei

After the Dec. 1, 2018, arrest of Meng at the behest of the U.S., the Chinese detained two Canadians on what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls “arbitrary” charges and acted to “arbitrarily” impose the death sentence on a Canadian convicted of drug smuggling in China.

During his time at CSIS, Ellis also worked to free Kevin and Julia Garratt, a couple detained on allegations of spying in China for years before being freed in late 2016.

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American authorities allege that Meng’s company used a subsidiary to skirt U.S. sanctions on doing business with Iran.

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READ MORE: Ex-intelligence official reveals covert operation to free Boyle family from militants

Meng denies the allegations, and the U.S. has until the end of the month to formally submit a request for her extradition.

While Trudeau has repeatedly made closer ties with China a focus of his foreign policy, he has received criticism for doing so amid escalating crackdowns on human rights, dissidents, media and minorities by the authoritarian regime, as well as its aggression against regional neighbours.

Since the arrest of Meng, however, those priorities have come under unprecedented scrutiny and raised questions about whether the government will yield to threats stemming from the arrest and let Huawei bid on building the country’s 5G telecommunications infrastructure.

WATCH BELOW: China threatens ‘repercussions’ on Canada if Huawei 5G banned

Click to play video: 'China threatens ‘repercussions’ on Canada if Huawei 5G banned'
China threatens ‘repercussions’ on Canada if Huawei 5G banned

Last summer, the U.S. banned its government and any businesses that want to work with the government from using Huawei equipment on core parts of their networks, specifically, any parts that are considered “critical” and that can route or view data.

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That came after a 2012 report by the U.S. House Intelligence Committee that deemed Huawei a national security threat because of the potential that it could or may be spying for the Chinese government through its technology.

Chinese law requires any Chinese company to spy for the government if requested, and Washington has been on a campaign for years encouraging allies to also ban the firm, an effort that is quickly gaining traction.

Australia and New Zealand banned Huawei in August and November of last year.

Britain is still actively studying whether to take special measures to ban Huawei, but last month, the U.K.’s largest mobile provider, BT, banned the company from providing core components of its 5G network and began stripping the technology already in place on the core parts of its 3G and 4G networks.

And on Friday, the German government reportedly confirmed that it is now also considering a ban.

Successive Canadian governments, however, have refused to do the same.

WATCH BELOW: U.S. proposes laws targeting Huawei and ZTE

Click to play video: 'U.S. proposes laws targeting Huawei and ZTE'
U.S. proposes laws targeting Huawei and ZTE

While a review of the security of Huawei’s 5G technology is currently underway in Canada, officials have consistently refused to say when it will be complete or whether they agree with assessments by intelligence officials from virtually all Five Eyes allies that the company poses an unacceptable risk.

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Now, China is using the arrest of Meng to threaten Canada against acting with its allies.

Last week, the Chinese ambassador to Canada threatened “repercussions” if Huawei was banned in Canada while also insisting that Canada is a “friend” it accuses of “backstabbing” over the arrest of Meng.

Ellis said those threats are a shocking change of tune for the country.

“I’ve never heard the Chinese make such boldfaced threats before. They tend to exercise a little more discretion in the way they convey this sort of information. As I said, they’re playing hardball, and I think it needs to be dealt with with a lot of care,” he said.

“This is a tough, tough situation now. Every part of the government needs to be involved. If I were the government, I would not stop recruiting allies. He wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t having some impact.”

Ellis urged Canadians to take every possible precaution if they have to travel to China.

But he warned that he would not take the risk himself.

“It’s a tenuous situation, to say the least. I certainly wouldn’t go for pleasure, and for business, until the situation is resolved, I would be very, very careful,” Ellis said, noting that the Chinese government seems to be targeting people who have influential ties with “trumped-up charges.”

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“Either that or don’t go. Do it over Skype or meet in a third country where it’s safer.”

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