Huawei Canada’s vice-president of government relations repeatedly would not condemn the arbitrary detention by China of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, despite specifically and repeatedly insisting the company’s CFO Meng Wanzhou has “done nothing wrong.”
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Huawei Canada’s Morgan Elliott made unclear and at times contradictory statements about the company’s activities, and dodged several requests for him to state clearly whether the company condemns the detention of the two Michaels.
He also did not offer any clarification when told his responses suggest the company views as morally equivalent the arbitrary detentions of the two Canadians, who have been held in Chinese prisons for more than two years, and the arrest of Meng under a longstanding extradition treaty with the U.S.
She and her company face dozens of criminal charges in the U.S., but she remains out on bail and living in a Vancouver mansion while her attempt to avoid extradition works through the courts.
At the outset of the interview, Elliott was asked what kind of reception the company has received by the new Joe Biden administration south of the border, and responded by saying the company has seen a more “measured approach” so far, and then raising the issue of Meng.
“I think we’re all frustrated with the lack of communications between the government, between governments on a number of issues,” he said. “The company has never done anything wrong. We’ve been transparent in all our interactions. Meng Wanzhou has done nothing wrong.“
“I’m going to stop you there because I think that’s interesting,” Stephenson said. “Your company’s position is — and as the Canadian version of Huawei — is that Meng Wanzhou has done nothing wrong. So you don’t think that the RCMP arrest of her was legitimate?”
“The company has done nothing wrong, Meng Wanzhou has done nothing wrong,” Elliott said, adding that the previous U.S. administration used “companies and, unfortunately, people as political pawns.”
“Mr. Ren (Zhengfei, Meng’s father and Huawei’s CEO), like any father, wants his daughter home, just as the families of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor want their family,” Elliott said.
“This is a political situation that requires a political discussion and political solution.”
Canadian authorities arrested Meng in December 2018 at the behest of American law enforcement, who charged her and her company shortly afterwards with dozens of criminal charges related to allegations of skirting sanctions on Iran and stealing corporate secrets.
While former U.S. president Donald Trump did comment publicly on Meng’s arrest, suggesting he would intervene if he thought doing so would get China to cave to U.S. trade demands, prosecutors at the Department of Justice have laid out public and extensive details of the allegations against Meng.
The allegations centre on specific dates, years, events, bank transactions and other details that prosecutors say ground the case against Meng and Huawei in evidence that meets the threshold to lay charges, as established in an independent justice system.
China, in contrast, does not have an independent judiciary and has laid out no evidence or clear details of the allegations against Kovrig and Spavor, other than to charge them with the vague accusations of spying and sharing state secrets.
The country’s court system is controlled by its ruling Chinese Communist Party.
It has a conviction rate of approximately 99 per cent.
Yet Elliott did not offer clarification when pressed on his response.
“As a Canadian, though, are you comfortable with calling the detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor political and it’s just pointing fingers?” Stephenson asked. “They were arbitrarily detained. So I guess I’ll put it to you right now. Will you call for their release? Will Huawei Canada call for their release?”
Elliott called the question “a very good point” but said Huawei Canada is “not a political entity.”
“Any time we go in to talk to a member of Parliament, senior bureaucrats, the Chinese government, we always say, our top three priorities are bring the two Michaels home, send Meng Wanzhou back to China, and then we can start talking about business relations,” he said.
“We’ve advocated for a number of different issues and we just want to extract ourselves from this political whirlpool that was instigated it by a former administration.”
“That doesn’t answer the question of whether Huawei Canada will condemn the detention of the two Michaels,” said Stephenson. “If Huawei wants to do business and you’re speaking as a Canadian, why would the company be unwilling to condemn the treatment of those two Canadian citizens?”
“Well as a company, we want everyone home, we want to send Meng Wanzhou back to China,” he said.
“So you see the detention of Meng Wanzhou and the two Michaels, you see those as equal? You see those as morally equal?” Stephenson interjected.
“This was actions that were outside of the company,” Elliott said. “We’re not a political entity, we’re not a political government. We’re a tech company that wants to do business in Canada. We want everyone home.”
Elliott was asked why — if the company will not condemn the arbitrary detention of two Canadians by China — should Canadians trust the company’s assertion that it would defy the Chinese state if ordered to use their technology to spy on Canadians, which Chinese laws require.
He responded by equating China’s law with legislation in the U.S. and Australia that allows for national security agencies and law enforcement to attempt to compel companies to hand over information on customers or decrypt information when ordered to do so by police.
However, both the U.S. and Australia have functioning independent judiciaries as well as freedom of speech laws that allow their citizens to both criticize and vote out governments they feel to be encroaching on their constitutional rights.
The citizens of both countries also have constitutional rights, which domestic courts have cited in rolling back and limiting provisions in American national security laws, for example.
The Chinese government routinely detains human rights activists and critics of the regime on accusations of subversion, and does not allow free expression or free and fair elections.
Lawyers representing pro-democracy protesters who were arrested under China’s national security law banning criticism of the government have recently had their licences stripped.
Elliott also said that Canadian security agencies have said publicly “that they believe the ability to measure and protect Canadians using Huawei is possible.”
He said the “CCSC and CSE” had said on a news show “rather recently” that any potential risks to Canadians from using Huawei gear can be mitigated, after being told that Five Eyes countries have expressed security concerns about Huawei.
The concerns raised by Five Eyes countries pertain to allowing Huawei to participate in the building of 5G networks, which most of Canada’s closest allies have now said they will not allow, citing spying fears.
However, the CSE — the Communications Security Establishment, which is the country’s signals intelligence agency — told Global News it has not issued any public verdict or assessment on the safety of using Huawei 5G gear.
“With respect to 3G, 4G, and LTE networks, CSE has clearly stated that we have been able to mitigate cyber security risks through a collaborative risk mitigation framework,” said CSE spokesperson Evan Koronewski, pointing to the CSE’s 2018 public statement.
“Regarding the 5G security review, CSE has not commented publicly on 5G security, except to maintain that we continue to work with relevant Government of Canada departments and agencies,” he continued.
“Beyond this statement, we have never publicly commented further.”
READ MORE: The threat of Huawei 5G
Elliott was also asked about concerns raised last week by CSIS director David Vigneault in a rare public speech that China is looking to silence minorities and critics, including those based abroad.
BBC News reported last month that Huawei had filed a patent for technology that used facial recognition to identify ethnic minorities such as Uighurs, a Muslim minority that Beijing forces into detention camps.
The report came after The Washington Post also reported in December 2020 using a document posted on Huawei’s website that the company and a Chinese tech startup were working on developing an artificial intelligence alert system to identify Uighurs and flag them to police.
Elliott appeared to suggest the two matters were one and the same.
“That was a mistake. It’s wrong. It’s completely unacceptable and not compatible with the views of Huawei. We don’t condone and we don’t want to see our equipment used to discriminate or oppress any group,” he said.
“You can imagine with a company of 200,000 people, sometimes stuff gets posted and it was a mistake. We unequivocally condone the use of our technology to discriminate or oppress any group.”
“So you accidentally had this end up in a patent application?” Stephenson asked.
“It was a mistake. My belief and my understanding is it’s not a patent application, it was a paper posted on our website and again, we unequivocally condone the use of our technology to to discriminate.”
“You condone it or you condemn it?” Stephenson asked.
“Both,” said Elliott.
“You condone it?” Stephenson asked again.
Elliott answered: “We do not condone the use of our technology to discriminate or oppress.”