Canada has approved extradition proceedings against the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, prompting a furious reaction from China.
Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was detained in Vancouver last December and is under house arrest. In late January, the US justice department charged Meng and Huawei with conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran.
Meng will appear in a Vancouver court on 6 March, when a date will be set for her extradition hearing.
“Today, department of Justice Canada officials issued an authority to proceed, formally commencing an extradition process in the case of Ms Meng Wanzhou,” the government said in a statement.
China, whose relations with Canada have deteriorated badly over the affair, denounced the decision and repeated previous demands for Meng’s release.
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a statement on Saturday that Beijing “deplores and firmly opposes the Canadian side’s obstinately moving forward the so-called judicial process”.
He said: “This is a severe political incident. We once again urge the US side to immediately withdraw the arrest warrant and extradition request for Ms Meng Wanzhou and urge the Canadian side to immediately release Ms Meng Wanzhou and ensure that she returns to China safe and sound.”
Legal experts had predicted the government of prime minister Justin Trudeau would give the go-ahead for extradition proceedings, given the close judicial relationship between Canada and the United States.
It could be years, though, before Meng is sent to the United States, since Canada’s slow-moving justice system allows many decisions to be appealed.
A final decision will probably come down to the federal justice minister, who will face the choice of angering the United States by rejecting the extradition bid, or China by accepting it.
Professor Wesley Wark of the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs said “the Canadians will take a beating throughout this whole process” from China.
“I suspect the Trudeau government is desperately hoping that the Americans reach a deal with the Chinese,” he said by phone.
Donald Trump told Reuters in December he would intervene if it served national security interests or helped close a trade deal with China, prompting Ottawa to stress the extradition process should not be politicized. Last week, Trump played down the idea of dropping the charges.
After Meng’s detention, China arrested two Canadians on national security grounds, and a Chinese court later sentenced to death a Canadian man who previously had only been jailed for drug smuggling.
Brock University professor Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat who had served two postings in China, said Beijing was likely to retaliate further.
“They’re not going to take this lying down … one shudders to think what the consequences could be,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp, saying Beijing might crack down on Canadian canola shipments or stop Chinese students from going to Canada.
Ottawa rejects Chinese calls to release Meng, saying it cannot interfere with the judiciary.
“The Chinese side is utterly dissatisfied with and firmly opposes the issuance of [the] authority to proceed,” the embassy in Ottawa said in a statement.
Beijing had earlier questioned the state of judicial independence in Canada, noting the government faced accusations it had tried to intervene to stop a corruption trial.
The Canadian justice minister, David Lametti, declined to comment. Huawei was not immediately available for comment.
Meng’s lawyers said they were disappointed and described the US charges as politically motivated.