Chinese telecom Huawei says Conservative leadership hopeful Jean Charest focused predominantly on the company’s participation in Canada’s 5G networks and not the extradition case involving Meng Wanzhou.
In a statement to Global News, Alykhan Velshi, a former conservative strategist and the telecom’s vice president of corporate affairs in Canada, said the company would not wade into the Conservative leadership contest.
But after receiving a “number of questions” about Charest’s past work for the telecom, Velshi clarified the former Quebec premier predominantly focused around 5G issues for the company.
“Huawei is grateful to Jean Charest and the team at (law firm) McCarthy Tetrault for their loyal advice and support since mid-2019. The firm’s strategic support has mainly focused on 5G and the Canadian business-regulatory environment,” Velshi wrote in a statement.
“That said, in addition to 5G, they have supported Huawei on the full range of issues facing the company, and at times this has included limited assistance on the extradition issue.”
Charest’s previous work for Huawei – a company the Conservatives have for years called to be banned from Canada’s telecommunication networks on national security grounds – has already become an issue for his candidacy.
His involvement with the company was first aired during the party’s 2020 leadership race, when Charest was considering a bid. He declined to enter that race.
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The Chinese telecom has been severely restricted from participating in the future 5G wireless networks by some of Canada’s closest security partners over fears that Beijing could require the company to conduct surveillance and steal secrets.
Huawei has denied those allegations – although the company’s closeness with Beijing and apparent willingness to carry out surveillance has been well documented by the press.
The Liberal government has repeatedly delayed a decision on Huawei’s participation in Canadian 5G networks. While that decision has been put off, Canada’s three major telecom companies have announced they would move ahead with different technology – although there remains plenty of existing Huawei cell tower equipment in operation across the country.
The Conservatives have called for Huawei to be banned from future 5G networks – a position that has been party policy since 2019, and that provokes strong emotions from Tory partisans.
Asked about his previous work for the telecom at an event in Alberta Thursday night, Charest suggested that his work helped secure the release of the Two Michaels – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were detained by Chinese authorities on national security grounds shortly after the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver in 2018, and faced extradition to the U.S. to face fraud charges. The arrest of the Two Michaels was widely seen as retaliation; they were released shortly after Meng reached a deal to allow her to travel back to Beijing.
“What we did in Huawei, I’m very proud of what we did, in helping to sort out the situation of Ms. Meng Wanzhou. And I worked with the family of Michael Kovrig so that we could free the Two Michaels,” Charest said.
“We worked with them very, very closely throughout the whole process. And I never did anything, and would have never did anything that would have been contrary to the interest of my country. So in fact, we were very, very active in helping resolve that matter to bring the Two Michaels home.”
Asked about the discrepancy between Charest’s comments and Huawei’s statement on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Charest said he is “very proud of having worked with the family of Michael Kovrig in the release of the two Michaels.”
“Mr. Charest will uphold the position of the Conservative Party of Canada that proposes to ban Huawei from 5G and will also order a national security review of all strategic natural resources and telecom infrastructure projects based on changing geopolitical realities to protect Canada’s national security interests,” said Michelle Coates Mather in a statement.