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U.S.- Canada Show a United Front During Huawei Tech Executive’s Trial

Canada’s Foreign Ministry said Canadian officials were granted consular access Friday to one of the detainees and they are still trying to contact the second.

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Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland takes part in a news conference at the Embassy of Canada in Washington. VOA

The United States and Canada promised a fair judicial process for a Chinese tech executive who was arrested earlier this month in Canada.

In talks at the State Department on Friday, the U.S. and Canadian foreign and defense ministers put on a united front, following a growing diplomatic dispute between the United States and China, in which Canada finds itself in the middle.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland defended her country’s detention of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, saying it was “not a political decision,” but “a matter of following the rules.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was also “respecting the rule of law each step along the way” as it seeks Meng.

Canada arrested Meng at the request of the United States, which says Huawei violated U.S. sanctions on Iran. She has been released on bail and is awaiting possible extradition to the United States.

Huawei, China, Canada
A man lights a cigarette outside a Huawei retail shop in Beijing. VOA

Disagreement with Trump

Freeland implicitly pushed back against recent comments by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said the case could be used as part of wider trade negotiations with Beijing.

“It is also very important for Canada that extradition agreements are not to be used for political purposes,” she said. “Canada does not do it that way and I believe it is obvious that democratic countries, such as our partners in the United States, do the same.”

Freeland also said she was extremely concerned about the fate of two Canadians — businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig — who were detained in China this week, in what is widely seen as a case of retaliation against Canada’s detention of Meng.

Huawei, China, Trump, Canada
Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.’s chief financial officer, is seen in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters. VOA

“For me and the prime minister, there are no issues that touch us more personally and immediately than the detention of Canadians outside our country,” Freeland said, adding, “This is a huge priority for our government.”

Canadians ‘ought to be returned’

Secretary of State Pompeo called China’s detention of the Canadian citizens “unacceptable” and said that they “ought to be returned.”

China’s foreign ministry says the Canadian citizens are each being investigated on suspicion of violating China’s national security laws. Analysts and rights groups have called those laws powerful and vague.

In a statement Saturday, the International Crisis Group called for the immediate release of Kovrig, who is their senior expert for North East Asia, based in Hong Kong. The group said Kovrig had always worked transparently and constructively with Chinese authorities.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters, Dec. 12, 2018, at United Nations headquarters. VOA

“The real danger to China comes from Michael’s arbitrary arrest and detention, for these will have a chilling effect on people wanting to visit and engage with the country,” said Crisis Group president and CEO Robert Malley.

The statement also noted that since Kovrig had been a Canadian diplomat in China between 2014 and 2016, “diplomatic missions around the globe should be concerned by the suggestion that normal diplomatic work could be grounds for future detention.

Also Read: As Huawei CFO Gets Released On a Bail, Trump Suggests a Trade Deal With China

Canada’s Foreign Ministry said Canadian officials were granted consular access Friday to one of the detainees and they are still trying to contact the second. The Crisis Group confirmed that the Canadian ambassador in Beijing has been able to visit Kovrig. (VOA)

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U.S. Government Human Rights Report Shows ‘Amber’ Warning Light Situation in Hong Kong

"Human rights issues included substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association [and] restrictions on political participation," the report said.

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The flags of Hong Kong (left) and its communist ruler China, in file photo. RFA

A U.S. government human rights report is ‘an amber light’ for the human rights situation in Hong Kong, with some of the city’s traditional freedoms under threat, commentators told RFA.

The State Department highlighted several areas of concern in its 2018Human Rights Report published last week, in particular, “encroachment” by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing on Hong Kong’s promised autonomy.

“Human rights issues included substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association [and] restrictions on political participation,” the report said.

The report cited multiple sources as saying that Chinese operativesmonitored some political activists, nongovernmental organizations(NGOs), and academics who criticized Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong,which is supposed to be separate legal jurisdiction under the terms of the “one country, two systems” framework.

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The move came as the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned ofincreasing self-censorship among local journalists, often among mediaoutlets with business interests in mainland China. VOA

It also pointed to cross-border detentions and abductions, citing thedisappearance of businessman Xiao Jianhua and the cross-border rendition of Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, who is a Swedish citizen.

“Xiao’s and other abductions show the Chinese Central Government’swillingness to act contrary to the rule of law and undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the report said.

It said Hong Kong and Chinese officials had restricted, or sought to restrict, the right to express or report on political protest and dissent, particularly the notion of independence for Hong Kong.

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“But if Hong Kong’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate in the next couple of years … for example, if we see more kidnappings, then I think the U.S. is very likely to abolish Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading territory.” VOA

The trial of dozens of protesters, including key figures, after the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement on public order charges had”raised the cost of protesting government policies and led to concerns the government was using the law to suppress political dissent.”

The report also cited the jailing of two disqualified lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yao Wai-ching, last June for four weeks on “unlawful assembly” charges, following scuffles with Legislative Council security guards in 2016.

It said the banning of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party(HKNP) last September was one example, while the disqualification of six pro-democracy lawmakers for “improperly” taking their oaths of allegiance was another.

The U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) voiced concern at thetime over the ban, which relied on colonial-era legislation under theSocieties Ordinance that originally targeted criminal organizations, or “triads.”

“The UK does not support Hong Kong independence, but Hong Kong’s highdegree of autonomy and its rights and freedoms are central to its way of life, and it is important they are fully respected,” the statement said.

‘An amber light’

Hong Kong political commentator Sang Pu said the State Departmentreport had struck a note of warning to the international community.

“I don’t think this is a red light, but it is an amber light,” Sang told RFA, adding that a further deterioration could affect Hong Kong’s international reputation as an open port.

“But if Hong Kong’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate in the next couple of years … for example, if we see more kidnappings, then I think the U.S. is very likely to abolish Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading territory.”

Another red flag would be the enactment of sedition, subversion andnational security laws, as mandated by Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, Sang said.

Meanwhile, a national law passed by Beijing in September 2017“criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner during its rendition,” the State Department report said, adding that Hong Kong will soon legislate to make the law apply in its own jurisdiction.

It also pointed to the effective expulsion from Hong Kong, the first since the handover, of Financial Times Asia news editor Victor Mallet, after he hosted at event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club featuring HKNP founder Andy Chan as the speaker.

The move came as the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned ofincreasing self-censorship among local journalists, often among mediaoutlets with business interests in mainland China.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Alvin Yeung, who also heads Hong Kong’s CivicParty, said he shares concerns over Hong Kong’s reputation.

“Our most important competitor, Singapore, has free trade agreements with pretty much the rest of the world, and Hong Kong is lagging behind,” Yeung said.

Also Read: North Korean Authorities Ramping Up The Levels of Strictness at Weekly Self-Criticism Sessions

“Our international image is probably that Hong Kong wouldn’t be capable of such a thing,” he said. “Other countries might not be interested in pursuing free trade agreements with Hong Kong, because there are no benefits to doing so.”

But pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung said Hong Kong remains a free society.

“We have a very high level of human rights protection,” Leung said. “I hope they aren’t going to suppress our economic freedom under the guise of human rights.” (RFA)