Maximum tension between Canada and China. A day after ratifying the death sentence for drug trafficking Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg on August 10, the Chinese court sentenced businessman Michael Spavor, also Canadian, to 11 years in prison for suspected espionage.
Spavor had been in jail since 2018, after being detained with former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig.
The sentence was described at the time by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “arbitrary and absolutely unacceptable and unfair”.
International observers interpret the rulings as pressure from China on Canada as the Canadian court must decide whether to hand over tech giant Huawei chief executive Meng Wanzhou to the United States to face charges criminal.
China believes the arrest of Meng, now on parole, is politically motivated.
The Asian country denies that the decisions against the Canadians are tied to the executive’s case, although the arrests of the “Michaels,” as they are known, came just days after Meng’s arrest in 2018.
The crisis has been described as “hostage diplomacy”, and behind it lies an increasingly complex international political game for which complex solutions are expected.
Between the two, a trade war
Some experts argue that Canada was caught in the middle of the trade war between China and the United States.
“The US-China trade war has heightened tensions between China and the rest of the West. Joe Biden maintains a firm stance against Beijing, which has fueled fears of a world torn by a new Cold War,” he said. said Darren Touch, expert. on Sino-US relations at the Wilson Center in Washington.
Huawei’s case has been a constant source of tension. The United States maintains stiff sanctions against the Chinese tech company and accuses it of being a threat to national security.
Meng Wanzhou is the company’s chief financial officer and the daughter of its founder, Ren Zhengfei. His arrest by Canadian authorities on December 1, 2018 came as part of a US investigation against Huawei for possible sanctions violations against Iran.
From the start, China responded with indignation. Officials called Meng’s detention “extremely offensive and illegal” and warned Canada that if the businesswoman was not released immediately there would be “serious consequences”.
In less than a week, China arrested Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig for suspected espionage activities.
Beijing claims Michael and Schellenberg are criminals, although Canada believes their fate is tied to that of the Huawei executive.
Meng was arrested shortly after Robert Shellenberg’s first trial. The death penalty was not pronounced until the next trial, which has now been ratified.
The crimes “by Michael” are even less clear.
Experts consulted by BBC Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish-language service, say that, in practice, the convictions were in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.
“Hostage diplomacy is part of the Chinese tools and is used in this case,” said Paul Evans, professor of international relations for Asia and the Trans-Pacific region at the University of British Columbia, Canada.
“This is all part of a strategy to pressure Canada to release Meng. But in Canada, the judiciary is independent, free from political interference. In Michael’s case, there was a lot of lack of transparency about the process, which is unacceptable, ”he adds. Touch.
China’s goal, experts say, is to prevent Meng from being extradited and tried in the United States at all costs.
“China’s use of hostage diplomacy violates international law as Beijing seeks to exert influence over Canada and other countries,” Touch said.
The confusion between Ottawa, Beijing and Washington seems difficult to resolve, at least for now.
The way out of the conflict
“I think the solution to this diplomatic mess lies in Washington, which sparked the crisis by calling for Meng’s extradition. A settlement negotiated with the prosecution, perhaps combined with a hefty fine for Huawei, could be part of that solution, “said Gordon Houlden, professor emeritus at the China Institute at the University of Alberta, Canada.
Paul Evans, for his part, believes that the solution to this conflict lies in treating it as a diplomatic and political problem, and not as a legal problem.
“It will be very difficult to find the solution,” says Touch.
The current crisis has a precedent in 2014, when Canadian couple Kevin and Julia Garratt were also arrested in China, allegedly on charges of espionage.
The arrest came shortly after Canadian authorities arrested Chinese citizen Su Bin for alleged involvement in a conspiracy to hack systems containing sensitive US military data.
Many interpreted the Garratts’ arrest as retaliation and an attempt to block China to prevent Su’s extradition to the United States.
Su Bin was convicted and sentenced in 2016 in California to 46 months in prison.
Julia Garratt was released on bail in 2015 and Kevin Garratt was deported in 2016 following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to China.
“At this time, there is no indication when Beijing will be able to kick the Michaels,” Evans said.
Houlden, on the other hand, doesn’t think Schellenberg’s sentence will be overturned, although he leaves the door open for her “to be commuted to life in prison at some point,” he says.