People hold a sign at a B.C. courthouse prior to the bail hearing for Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer on Monday, December 10, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Canada-China relations turn icy over arrest of Chinese exec

The Huawei case has threatened to complicate U.S.-China efforts to resolve a bitter trade dispute.

Relations between Canada and China turned frostier Tuesday amid reports that the Chinese detained a former Canadian diplomat and as a Vancouver court resumed a hearing on whether to grant bail to a jailed top Chinese executive.

But U.S.-China tensions seemed to ease somewhat as the world’s two biggest economies confirmed they were working on talks to resolve a trade dispute that has shaken financial markets and threatens to slow global economic growth.

Relations between the three countries were shaken by the Dec. 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and daughter of its founder. Canadian authorities detained Meng during a layover at the Vancouver airport at the request of the United States. The U.S. accuses Huawei of violating American economic sanctions against Iran.

The Huawei case has threatened to complicate U.S.-China efforts to resolve a bitter trade dispute.

But the Chinese government said Tuesday that its economy czar has discussed plans with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer for talks aimed at settling the two countries’ differences. Lighthizer’s office confirmed that he had spoken by phone with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.

The news that trade negotiations may resume lifted stock markets around the world.

Just as the prospects for U.S.-China trade peace brightened, Canada’s relations with Beijing took a darker turn.

Reports surfaced Tuesday that former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, now North East Asia senior adviser for the International Crisis Group, had been detained in China. The Brussels-based nongovernmental organization said in a statement that it is doing everything possible to obtain information about Kovrig’s whereabouts and to secure “his prompt and safe release.”

Kovrig previously worked as a Canadian diplomat in Beijing and Hong Kong and at the United Nations in New York. Canada’s Global Affairs department didn’t immediately respond with comment.

Canada had been bracing for retaliation for Meng’ arrest. The Canadian province of British Columbia cancelled a trade mission to China amid fears China could detain Canadians to put pressure on Ottawa over Meng’s detention.

In Vancouver, meanwhile, Meng was to appear in court for a third day Tuesday as she sought release on bail.

China vowed Tuesday that Beijing would “spare no effort” to protect against “any bullying that infringes the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a conference in Shanghai.

Wang didn’t mention Meng. But ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Wang was referring to cases of all Chinese abroad, including Meng’s.

Washington accuses Huawei of using a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It says Meng and Huawei misled banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran.

In a popular rallying cry in previous conflicts with the U.S., Japan, South Korea and other governments, Chinese nationalists called on consumers to support Chinese brands. But in an unusual development, an equally large number of internet users criticized such calls as reckless.

Huawei, the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies, is the target of U.S. security concerns. Washington has pressured other countries to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information.

The U.S. and China have tried to keep Meng’s case separate from their wider trade dispute, but jitters among companies and investors have roiled global stock markets.

The United States has slapped tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports in response to complaints Beijing steals American technology and forces U.S. companies to turn over trade secrets.

Tariffs on $200 billion of those imports were scheduled to rise from 10 per cent to 25 per cent on Jan. 1. But Trump agreed to postpone those by 90 days while the two sides negotiate.

AP Business Writer Joe McDonald, AP researcher Yu Bing and APTN video producers Fu Ting and Olivia Zhang in Beijing contributed to this report.

Jim Morris, Rob Gillies And Paul Wiseman, The Associated Press

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