Canada will move ahead with an extradition hearing for Chinese technology executive Meng Wanzhou, paving the way for a legal battle that could pit Canada against China and complicate the relationship between both countries and the United States.
The decision, which was announced Friday, means Canada’s Justice Department believes there is “sufficient evidence” to formally proceed. Meng will next appear in a Vancouver court on March 6 to schedule the date of the hearing, the department said.
Meng, who is chief financial officer for China’s Huawei Technologies, was arrested at Vancouver’s airport on Dec. 1 on U.S. charges related to alleged violations of U.S. sanctions law, setting off an ongoing diplomatic dispute.
China claims Meng’s arrest was political. Not long after she was arrested, two Canadians in China were arrested on vague security charges that are widely seen as retaliation. A Canadian convicted of drug smuggling was later resentenced to death in a hasty, one-day trial.
Canada counters that it is bound by an extradition treaty with the United States, stressing the charges are a legal matter. A news release published Friday by Canada’s Justice Department opened with the line, “Canada is a country governed by the rule of law.”
“An extradition hearing is not a trial nor does it render a verdict of guilt or innocence,” the statement continued. “If a person is ultimately extradited from Canada to face prosecution in another country, the individual will have a trial in that country.”
The U.S. role adds another layer of complexity. The standoff over Meng comes as the Trump administration is engaged in high-stakes trade negotiations with Beijing.
President Trump has suggested the United States could cut a deal with China — a suggestion that could ultimately play a role in Meng’s extradition case, it seems.
In a statement emailed to reporters on Friday, members of Meng’s defense team expressed “disappointment” that the hearings will go ahead despite the “political nature” of the charges.
They also included a reference to Trump’s comments: “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 U.S. negotiations with China over a trade deal.”
In January, the U.S. Justice Department unsealed a 13-count indictment against Huawei, two affiliates and Meng, alleging bank and wire fraud. It also charged the company with violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Friday’s announcement from Canadian authorities means a deal is less likely and the United States will indeed seek to bring Meng stateside to face charges.
Eventually, that could bring the United States and China into direct conflict.
For now, China seems focused on pressuring Canada. In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in Canada called the extradition process “political persecution against a Chinese high-tech enterprise.”
It called on the Canadian side to refuse the extradition request — but made no mention of the United States or Trump.