One of the cardinal rules that seasoned travellers overseas obey diligently is to act like you are in someone else’s country and abide by their laws and morals. To do otherwise is …unwise.
Friends of mine who were expats living in Mexico said this over an over. “The laws are for the Mexicans. Not for foreigners.” I recall the signs posted all over the Madrid Youth Hostel in Franco’s Spain in the Seventies that said, “If you are caught using drugs, your embassy can do nothing for you.” There were tons of kids stupid enough to ignore the warning, and some of them paid the price. Women who dress in provocative Western clothing in Arab countries likewise. When we were in Egypt a year before the Arab Spring, there was a non-Arab family in our hotel, and the teenage girls went around in cutoffs and tank tops the whole time. Why are people so stupid?
And when you do business in a foreign country, you obey their business laws. When you are arranging deals in the United States, you can’t just wave a few hundred thousand Yuan around and fix your problems. And as Meng Wanzhou has discovered, you should be especially careful when your country is in the middle of a trade war with the U. S. president.
And into this mess, without any control over the situation, steps Canada. We have an extradition treaty with the U. S. They follow the rules and ask for extradition. We know this is going to annoy Beijing big time. What do we do?
It’s pretty obvious that the two biggest bullies on the international playground are having a turf war. They have played their Cold War stunt of having the battle on the turf of a smaller country, so the collateral damage is elsewhere. So, how do we handle it?
From Our Perspective
Canada has two reputations to consider. First, we swing far above our weight in international diplomacy, peacekeeping and all that goody-goody stuff. So, diplomatically, we are perfectly placed to intervene and make peace. Come on, Justin, get in there and prove the international reputation you’ve been trying to make for yourself.
Given the natures of the two combatants, I don’t hold out too much hope for diplomacy in these opening stages of the battle. In that case, Canada has another international reputation. We are a democracy; our laws treat everybody equally, including visitors from other countries. In turn, we expect them to abide by our laws. A contract is a contract, and an extradition treaty is a part of our law. Meng Wanzhouis protected – yes, protected – like any Canadian citizen by Canadian law and the terms of that treaty.
China should be happy. If the Americans can’t prove a solid case against her, we won’t turn her over. A Canadian judge who determines the interference of the American President flouts the terms of the treaty doesn’t have to grant the extradition.
Most Likely Scenario
And here we get back to the “bullies on the playground.” If the Americans prove their point to the satisfaction of our legal system, we send her to them. There is no advantage in bowing to Chinese political pressure or extortion. Yes, Canada stands to lose a lot by following the rules of our law and, by doing so, supporting the Americans.
The only thing Canada can gain from this situation is a good reputation. In the long term that is what is most important. If every time one of the bullies tries to intimidate us we stand firm, they will tend to leave us alone. Not every time, but most times. With bullies, that’s the best you can expect. If we want to play on that playground, we have to deal with it.
Other Trading Partners
And this echoes through our total trading sphere. Other possible trading partners are watching. Those that we want will know that we stand up for fairness no matter what. People we’d rather not trade with will realize it’s not a good idea to flout Canadian law and thus they will stay clean or stay clear. In the long run, it’s good for business.
And I hate to say it, but Canadian companies trading overseas will likewise be more circumspect, realizing that if they get caught afoul of foreign laws, the Canadian government will not bail them out.
The Price of Doing Business
I don’t want to push this point too much because it’s mere speculation, but we have no in-depth information about the two people the Chinese have kidnapped. Yes, they could be complete innocents, chosen at random. This is unlikely. The odds say they are businessmen who have intruded into areas where someone with political connections has competing interests. They have presumed to play against the big guys, and it didn’t pay off. We should make all diplomatic efforts to support them, but the Canadian government does not bargain with terrorists, and Meng Wenzhou is not a bargaining chip on that poker table.
The Bottom Line
Canada is a “rule of law” country. China, being ruled by a Communist Party, is basically a “rule of politics” country. The people of China – at least the ones who care – need to learn how our system works if they are going to do business with us and the rest of the world. The only way to teach them is to stick firmly to our system and not allow ourselves to be influenced by theirs.