China has expressed its anger and disappointment at Canada’s decision to proceed with the extradition of Huawei executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, and called for her immediate release.
Analysts said they expected Beijing to step up pressure on Ottawa and raise the case in trade negotiations with Washington. But they said the extradition process would be complicated and could take months if Meng’s lawyers decided to appeal.
The foreign ministry in Beijing and the Chinese embassy in Ottawa both issued strongly worded statements after Canada’s announcement on Friday.
“China strongly opposes Canada’s insistence to proceed with the so-called extradition of Ms Meng Wanzhou, and it has made a solemn representation,” the ministry said in a statement released on Saturday morning.
“It is a serious political incident. We again urge the US to rescind its request for the extradition of Ms Meng and call for Canada to release her immediately.”
Ottawa’s decision came despite mounting pressure from China, which has included the detention of several Canadian citizens and a foreign ministry spokesman questioning the credibility of the North American nation’s government on Friday.
The statement by Canada’s Justice Department said officials had conducted a “thorough and diligent review of the evidence” and determined it was sufficient to present the case to a judge for extradition.
The Chinese embassy likened Ottawa’s actions to “political persecution”.
“The case of Meng Wanzhou is not a pure judicial case, but political persecution towards a Chinese tech company,” it said. “The final ruling of the Canadian court will be a litmus test for Canadian judicial independence and we will wait and see.”
The latest development is also expected to complicate the efforts of Chinese and US officials seeking to resolve their trade conflict.
Wu Xinbo, director of the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University, said China would continue to exert pressure on Canada, and it would also be hoping for US President Donald Trump to intervene.
“China and the US may discuss Meng’s case in the next trade negotiations, and there could be a resolution after President Xi [Jinping] meets President Trump,” Wu said, referring to an expected meeting of the two leaders in late March. “The president of the United States definitely has the power and space to manoeuvre so that this can be resolved.”
Wang Yong, director of the Centre for International Political Economy at Peking University, agreed.
He said the more China linked the case to its trade talks with the US, the higher the chance Meng could be released sooner, though he added that the extradition process would be complicated and full of uncertainties.
But Meng faced a difficult legal battle, according to Ryan Mitchell, an assistant professor who specialises in international law at Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“Because the extradition hearing is not intended to try the facts of her case, Meng will not be able to present evidence to prove her innocence. She can, however, appeal the decision to extradite, and this could prolong the process somewhat,” he said.
“If Meng’s team decides to pursue all avenues of appeal, it is certainly possible that the process could take months or longer.”
Joanna Harrington, a law professor at the University of Alberta, said the extradition court would likely begin hearing from lawyers from both sides on the scheduling for the extradition hearing next week.
After the hearing, the extradition court would then decide if the case should be moved to the next phase for the justice minister to make a decision on whether to issue an order to extradite Meng.
“The court’s role is modest under the legislation. The job of the extradition judge is to determine if there is enough evidence to justify moving along to the next phase,” she said.
“The role for the minister of justice is more weighty. It is the minister, not the courts, that makes the final decision as to whether or not to issue an order of surrender.”
But Harrington said the process could be lengthy.
“It is hard to predict how long the proceedings will take, but it is not unusual for extradition cases to take time, absent the situation of the individual giving their consent to extradition.”
Meng’s lawyers have argued that Meng was targeted for a “political offence” and also that the crimes that she is accused of do not exist in Canadian law.
“If either of those two points could be proven, Meng could potentially prevail,” Mitchell said. “President Trump’s statements politicising the case may complicate matters, but it is doubtful they will decide the outcome at this stage,” he said.
Trump said last week that discussions on dropping criminal charges against Huawei would be held soon, prompting speculation he would use the case as a bargaining chip in the trade negotiations.
“We’re going to be discussing all of that during the course of the next couple of weeks,” he said at the time. “We’ll be talking to the US attorneys. We’ll be talking to the attorney general. We’ll be making that decision.”
The head of Meng’s defence team, David Martin, also issued a statement on Friday expressing his regret at Ottawa’s decision.
“We are disappointed that the minister of justice has decided to issue an authority to proceed in the face of the political nature of the US charges and where the president of the United States has repeatedly stated that he would interfere in Ms Meng’s case if he thought it would assist the US negotiations with China over a trade deal,” it said.
The South China Morning Post reported last month that Xie Maosong, a senior adviser to the Chinese Communist Party, predicted the Huawei charges would become part of the trade talks and that Meng would be released in the coming months.
Meng is due back in court on Wednesday. Justice William Ehrcke of the Supreme Court of British Columbia previously released her on US$7.5 million bail.
Meng and Huawei were charged by the US Justice Department in January with deceiving international banks about a subsidiary’s operations in Iran in violation of US sanctions, along with related financial crimes.
Ren Zhengfei, Huawei’s founder, told CBS News in a rare interview on February 20 that his daughter’s arrest was “politically motivated”.