Updated at 11:15 a.m. ET
A Canadian diplomat says the U.S. Justice Department has told Canada that it will formally seek to extradite Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested in Vancouver last month at U.S. officials’ request.
The news prompted China to warn it will retaliate if Canada tries to send Meng to the U.S. — a sign that a diplomatic crisis over her status could worsen.
The U.S. plans to make the extradition request before the upcoming Jan. 30 filing deadline, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., David MacNaughton, told The Globe and Mail. That date is 60 days after Meng was taken into custody at Vancouver’s international airport.
“Relations between China and Canada soured after the arrest,” NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports from Shanghai, “with China detaining two Canadian citizens and sentencing to death a Canadian man previously found guilty of drug smuggling.”
Schmitz adds, “A group of 143 scholars and former diplomats have signed an open letter to Chinese leader Xi Jinping demanding the release of the two Canadians.”
Meng, who is also the daughter of the Chinese tech behemoth’s billionaire founder and CEO, was arrested Dec. 1. U.S. officials suspect her of committing bank fraud while trying to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Meng was freed on bail of $10 million Canadian ($7.5 million U.S.) last month, after surrendering her passports and agreeing to wear a GPS monitor. She is currently living in one of the two houses she owns in the Vancouver area; her next court date is set for Feb. 6.
Responding to news that the U.S. will move ahead with the extradition request, a Chinese government spokeswoman said it was a mistake to have arrested Meng.
“China will take action in response to measures taken by the U.S.,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Hua Chunying was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post. “Everyone has to be held responsible for their own actions. Both the U.S. and Canada should be aware of the seriousness of the case and take steps to rectify the mistake.”
In an interview with the Globe and Mail, MacNaughton said that when he discussed the case with U.S. officials, he made it clear that Canada doesn’t relish its role in the international drama around Meng.
“We don’t like that it is our citizens who are being punished,” the newspaper quoted MacNaughton saying. “[The Americans] are the ones seeking to have the full force of American law brought against [Meng] and yet we are the ones who are paying the price. Our citizens are.”
Days after Meng’s arrest, China detained three Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor as well as Sarah McIver. And just last week, a Canadian man named Robert Lloyd Schellenberg who had appealed a 15-year prison sentence in China for drug smuggling was instead received a death sentence.
“Canadian diplomatic experts believe those detentions are related to Meng’s. And on Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the sentence handed down in Schellenberg’s case,” as NPR has reported.
The dispute is also playing out against a backdrop of large-scale business decisions — including whether Canada will opt to block Huawei’s technology in building out a new 5G communications network. U.S. officials have repeatedly warned other countries that they should not include Huawei in their 5G networks, citing the company’s possible ties to Chinese intelligence.
China’s ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, recently warned that there would be “repercussions” if Canada excludes Huawei from the 5G work.
Huawei has been under U.S. suspicion since at least 2012. The Justice Department says Meng, who was once a frequent visitor to the U.S., stopped traveling to the country in the spring of 2017, after her company became aware of a U.S. criminal investigation into Huawei.
Last week, Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei held a rare briefing with the media in which he denied that his company helps China’s government gather information on its customers. His company operates independently from the government and is owned by its employees, Ren said.