Huawei CFO Arrest Represents the Fears of Many Chinese Canadians

Chinese people are the second largest foreign born group in Canada as of 2016, and the number of Chinese Canadians is continually growing. Historically, Chinese-Canadian communities have faced a heap of discrimination in Canada, which unfortunately has yet to stop. I have been learning about these communities in my Chinese Fiction Literature class, which I took by accident and is another story, but I am so glad that I did. Now, when I see stories in the news revolving around Chinese communities in Canada, I don’t turn a blind-eye; instead, I am attentive to the issues that surround them, because I have realized the importance of keeping up to date with these communities. A recent case that has sparked controversy in the news involves a Chinese telecommunications company, Huawei, and the arrest of the CFO and founder's daughter, Meng Wanzhou. Looking at the bigger picture, this story had led to my discovery of the fear in many Chinese Canadians regarding the consequences of openly contradicting the views of the Chinese government.

About a month ago, Chinese Canadians took to the streets of Vancouver to protest the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, who was detained in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities due to an alleged security/trade violation in the company. After Meng’s arrest, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for her to be released and urged the United States and Canada to explain why she had been detained. Many Chinese Canadians followed suit and demanded for her release. However, many others stayed silent in apparent fear. Meng’s arrest contributes to an underbelly of issues concerning Chinese communities in Canada. The more I read on the Huawei scandal, the more I discovered the fear within many Chinese Canadians of the Chinese government. When issues involving China come to light, many Chinese people in Canada are scared to outwardly comment against the Chinese government, afraid that they would be unable to return to the country or that their remaining family back in China would face grave consequences. This isn’t just an irrational fear for few; rather, it stems from previous negative experiences that many Chinese Canadians have experienced.

During a public talk on environmental issues in China at the University of British Columbia, a student told The Globe and Mail that she did not dare to ask the speaker questions because she was afraid there were Chinese government agents watching. In another instance, a Toronto-based journalist said that she stopped writing stories that were critical of the Chinese government ever since the Chinese police harassed her China-based parents seven years ago. Miss Canada 2015, Anastasia Lin, was China-born and was banned from China after voicing her concerns about human rights in China. Anastasia and her family were forced into silence while her family was continually visited by Chinese security agencies. “I think that the Chinese government had hoped that by denying me a visa, it would silence me and frighten others who might consider speaking out against their human-rights abuses,” Anastasia told The Globe and Mail. She empathizes with the other Chinese in Canada and urges for the Canadian government to stand behind these Chinese Canadian citizens, allowing them to express themselves without fear. Silence can hurt, as it has with many Chinese Canadians who fear speaking out even in Canada because there is a continual pattern of others’ family members in China who have been threatened. Canada's government must give its citizens the security of knowing that it stands behind them and their basic human rights to think what they like and speak their minds.

Although the Chinese government says that they support free speech, they have also banned critics on foreign soil from entering the country. According to The Globe and Mail, Canadian political leaders have “become reluctant to criticize the Chinese government – which is exactly the effect Beijing wants.” This was hard for me to understand because I’ve never had to think twice about free speech and there are often times in the past where I should have been more careful but regardless, I have never faced consequences for stating my own opinions. This is because I only worry about the government in Canada; however, Chinese-Canadians have to keep both governments in mind as they represent the hybrid views which are often found to be balancing between the two varying political opinions.

Despite it being the U.S.’ request for Meng to be detained, China had targeted its anger towards Canada. Following the arrest, Chinese authorities detained two Canadians, which many people believe was “in a clear act of retaliation." In addition, Le Yucheng, one of China’s vice-foreign ministers, told the Canadian ambassador that his country would face “grave consequences.” This proves that the fear of speaking out against the Chinese government is valid since it has been shown that they will take action. For context, Huawei is one of the top companies in the Chinese tech sector and plays a key role in the country's ambitions to become a global tech superpower. As for Meng, she represents the “crème de la crème” of the country’s booming tech industry. This can explain why China feels especially protective over her and the company. Vancouver’s Chinese community hosted a conference where they discussed the Huawei case publicly, criticizing Canada’s involvement in the matter. Hong Guo, mayoral candidate for Richmond B.C spoke loudly about the matter, saying, "The Chinese people would like to keep the relationship respectable in order to expand business with Canada; however, this matter will damage that because people understand Canada is doing something for the benefit of America." Hong has been campaigning for stronger ties with China and has conducted her campaign almost entirely in Mandarin. Guo states that “Only Chinese people can understand what Chinese people want” and that “Chinese Canadians should vote for Chinese candidates to speak on our behalf.” There is no doubt that China puts pressure on Chinese Canadians and their actions within Canada, and that the Chinese should feel safe in a place that they call home. According to public belief, Canada arrested Meng at request of the U.S., seemingly due to their close ties to the country. Chinese ambassador Lu Shayne commented on Canada’s wrongful interferenc, saying, “China will not be isolated in the international community and will not waver in our position simply because of the objection of another country.”

The Huawei case opens up several different concerns for Chinese Canadians, politically and domestically. It is not widely known truly how much the Chinese government still impacts the Chinese despite them living in Canada and being Canadian citizens. However, the fears of many Chinese are grossly underreported and unhandled, which should be in the hands of the Canadian government to give these communities a voice in order to make them feel safe. As a result, many Chinese Canadians are confused on what to think after keeping silent for so long. Meanwhile, the protestors outside of the courthouse of Meng Wanzhou hold differing opinions on the case: “One group of people, they criticize Canada. They say, 'Well, America is just closely linked,' while another group, they think we have to respect the law because Canada is a country of law."