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China summoned the Canadian ambassador to protest the detention of a top executive of leading Chinese tech giant Huawei, calling it "unreasonable, unconscionable, and vile in nature" and warning of "grave consequences" if she is not released.
A report by the official Xinhua News Agency carried on the Foreign Ministry's website said that Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng called in Ambassador John McCallum on Saturday over the holding of Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who is reportedly suspected of trying to evade U.S. trade curbs on Iran.
Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies and has been the target of deepening U.S. security concerns over its ties to the Chinese government. The U.S. has pressured European countries and other allies to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information.
Le told McCallum that Meng's detention at the request of the United States while transferring flights in Vancouver was a "severe violation" of her "legitimate rights and interests."
"Such a move ignores the law and is unreasonable, unconscionable, and vile in nature," Le said in the statement.
"China strongly urges the Canadian side to immediately release the detained Huawei executive ... or face grave consequences that the Canadian side should be held accountable for," Le said.
Roland Paris, a former foreign policy adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said that Chinese pressure on the Canadian government won't work.
"Perhaps because the Chinese state controls its judicial system, Beijing sometimes has difficulty understanding or believing that courts can be independent in a rule-of-law country. There's no point in pressuring the Canadian government. Judges will decide," Paris tweeted in response to the comments from Beijing.
A Canadian prosecutor urged a Vancouver court to deny bail to Meng, whose case is shaking up U.S.-China relations and worrying global financial markets.
Meng, also the daughter of Huawei's founder, was detained at the request of the U.S. during a layover at the Vancouver airport Dec. 1 — the same day that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping of China agreed over dinner to a 90-day ceasefire in a trade dispute that threatens to disrupt global commerce.
The U.S. alleges that Huawei used a Hong Kong shell company to sell equipment in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. It also says that Meng and Huawei misled American banks about its business dealings in Iran.
The surprise arrest raises doubts about whether the trade truce will hold and whether the world's two biggest economies can resolve the complicated issues that divide them.
Canadian prosecutor John Gibb-Carsley said in a court hearing Friday that a warrant had been issued for Meng's arrest in New York Aug. 22. He said Meng, arrested en route to Mexico from Hong Kong, was aware of the investigation and had been avoiding the United States for months, even though her teenage son goes to school in Boston.
Gibb-Carsley alleged that Huawei had done business in Iran through a Hong Kong company called Skycom. Meng, he said, had misled U.S. banks into thinking that Huawei and Skycom were separate when, in fact, "Skycom was Huawei." Meng has contended that Huawei sold Skycom in 2009.
In urging the court to reject Meng's bail request, Gibb-Carsley said the Huawei executive had vast resources and a strong incentive to bolt: She's facing fraud charges in the United States that could put her in prison for 30 years.
The hearing will resume Monday after Meng spends the weekend in jail.
Huawei, in a brief statement emailed to The Associated Press, said that "we have every confidence that the Canadian and U.S. legal systems will reach the right conclusion."
Canadian officials have declined to comment on Chinese threats of retaliation over the case, instead emphasizing the independence of Canada's judiciary along with the importance of Ottawa's relationship with Beijing.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland said Canada "has assured China that due process is absolutely being followed in Canada, that consular access for China to Ms. Meng will absolutely be provided."
"We are a rule of law country and we will be following our laws as we have thus far in this matter and as we will continue to do," Freeland said Friday.
While protesting what it calls Canada's violation of Meng's human rights, China's ruling Communist Party stands accused of mass incarcerations of its Muslim minority without due process, locking up those exercising their right to free speech and refusing to allow foreign citizens to leave the country in order to bring pressure on their relatives accused of financial crimes.
The party also takes the lead in prosecutions of those accused of corruption or other crimes in a highly opaque process, without supervision from the court system or independent bodies.