Trudeau won’t be able to stay out of Trump’s crosshairs this time

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Canada has become the ham in the sandwich of a fight between China and the United States.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on January 28, 2019.

OTTAWA—All countries regularly spy on each other. So the sturm and drang about Huawei’s alleged threat to Canada’s 5G telecommunications network is a little rich.

Huawei has just been invited by India to become a part of its development of the network.

But Five Eye partners, led by the United States, are pushing Canada to ban Huawei based on the claim it could spy for the Chinese government.

Conservative critic Erin O’Toole joined the anti-Chinese chorus last week calling for a Huawei ban.

Similar security claims prompted the recent arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, in anticipation of an extradition hearing to the United States.

The Americans sought the extradition, alleging that Wanzhou attempted to bypass American sanctions on Iran by using a shell company to do business there.

Huawei vigorously denies these allegations.

China increased the bilateral temperature by detaining two Canadian citizens in retaliation and putting a third on death row.

Chairman and acting CFO Liang Hua was in Davos last week inviting foreign leaders to tour the operations and satisfy themselves that Huawei is not spying.

The Chinese are demanding proof of the Five Eyes claim.

How do the allegations align with spying activities by other countries in all parts of the world?

How did the United States have Jamal Kashoggi murder tapes from inside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey unless interceptive instruments had been planted?

Countries always claim they do not spy on their own citizens. If information is uncovered in a back channel surveillance operation, it is always passed along to the appropriate authority.

Canadian Ambassador to China John McCallum, who was fired on Jan. 25 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, had reinforced China’s position when he stated in a Chinese broadcast interview last week that Canada was not bound by the U.S. sanctions against Iran.

On the sanctions front, most countries joined a deal to lift sanctions in return for Iranian denuclearization commitments.

Trump withdrew American support for the agreement, even though his predecessor had negotiated it in good faith.

Multiple news reports buttress the blockage of the Chinese telecommunications superpower by claiming Canada is offside with other partners in the consortium.

But the Five Eyes have a history of doing what is in their economic interests, under the guise of security.

Huawei is aggressively competing with Silicon Valley giants like Cisco, so any move to limit Chinese growth would definitely assist major competitors in the United States and elsewhere.

When Canada was negotiating the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions at UNESCO, there was a diplomatic push from the other partners in Five Eyes to block the treaty.

Americans worked with British, claiming the treaty was an attack on their cultural freedom. In reality, the opposition was an attempt to ensure a Hollywood monopoly on global movie distribution.

In the end, only the Americans and the Israelis opposed the convention, with Australia abstaining and 148 countries voting in favor. Economic fights often parade as security matters.

Questions continue to be posed about the political nature of the current American extradition request.

Shortly after Wanzhou’s arrest last December, American president Donald Trump tweeted that he was willing to use the issue as a lever in negotiations with the Chinese over trade disputes.

McCallum and former American ambassador to China Max Baucus both said publicly last week that Trump comments damage the American request, scheduled to be heard in a British Columbia court starting Feb. 6.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland expressed similar concerns that the president’s comments were politicizing what should have been a strictly judicial process.

However, the question will be politicized, as an extradition order ultimately has to be approved by the justice minister.

That last time Americans asked Canada to extradite a Chinese citizen was the high-profile case of serial killer Charles Ng, a Hong Kong born national convicted of murdering multiple American citizens.

Ng used every legal lever to avoid extradition, arguing unsuccessfully that the potential imposition of the death penalty was a violation of his Charter rights.

The Californian legal system is reported to have spent $20-million on the case. Ng is now on death row awaiting execution.

In the Huawei case, McCallum said extradition “would not be a happy outcome.”

Canada has become the ham in the sandwich of a fight between China and the United States.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has worked hard to stay out of Trump’s crosshairs even when the president imposed tariffs on our country with the false claim of a security threat.

It won’t be possible this time.

Trudeau made the decision but, ultimately, hubris on the prime minister’s team is costing him.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.