Spot the difference: China’s Meng held in Canada at US request. UK’s Matthew Hedges in UAE

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 13, 2018

Meng Wanzhou

What’s the difference between the situation faced by Meng Wanzhou, finance chief of Chinese tech giant Huawei, and Matthew Hedges, PhD researcher at a British university?

For starters, Mr Hedges is home free and Ms Wanzhou is not. Mr Hedges, arrested in the UAE on charges of spying, was released from prison and deported to Britain last month. Ms Meng, who was arrested earlier this month in Canada at America’s request, was granted bail on Tuesday night (Dec 11). But she must wear an ankle bracelet and faces the uncertain prospect of being extradited to the US to be put on trial. This is on charges of  trying to defraud US financial institutions, which carry a maximum sentence of 30 years.

When Mr Hedges was sentenced in November, the UK was quick to cry foul, British media outlets ran the story non-stop and an international hullabaloo was the result.

In Ms Meng’s case, there is hardly the same sense of outrage. In fact, this unusual western action against a Chinese businesswoman is, in some ways, almost being seen as appropriate, possibly even justified. Why? And is this not a dangerous low for the western world?

Yes, very much so. And some right-thinking people are deeply concerned.

Consider the views of Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University:

“My more general worry is that the Western world is overusing the power of its systems of legal and economic cooperation. It is threatening to pull that access when people or institutions do things it doesn’t like, and more domestic laws are taking on a global reach.”

He goes on to say that political scientists Henry Farrell and Abraham L. Newman have called such behaviour ‘weaponized interdependence’.

Professor Cowen predicts that if Ms Meng is charged, it will “accelerate the division of the world into two competing systems of law, technology and commerce — namely those of China and the US.”

International relations will “develop along the dimension of power — what can you get away with? — rather than law or orderly cooperation.” And by taking on a significant country like China, the powerful United States may set off a chain reaction it has not feared until now. “By arresting Meng,” writes Professor Cowen, “the US is in essence telling China it might do better to break with the international order altogether, rather than subsisting on its fringes.”

What the US could – and should – have done instead of asking Canada to arrest Ms Meng, was sanctions against her company. As the Professor says, “that punishment seems more appropriate than personalizing and emotionalizing the issue for the Chinese public and perhaps the Chinese leadership.”