On February 10, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson's Twitter account posted a rebuke after Canada’s top intelligence official labeled the People’s Republic of China a security threat.
David Vigneult, of the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service (CSIS), said that China’s government “is pursuing a strategy for geopolitical advantage on all fronts – economic, technological, political, and military – and using all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty.”
In response, China’s Foreign Ministry tweeted:
“Canada's claim of ‘China is using state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security & sovereignty’ is BASELESS. China never interferes in others' internal affairs or arbitrarily arrests a third country's citizen at the behest of foreign powers.”
That claim is misleading. China has interfered in the internal affairs of other countries, but in this case, the tweet was an apparent reference to the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a Chinese citizen and senior executive of China’s telecom giant Huawei.
Meng was arrested during a stop-over at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018, on a U.S. warrant for several counts of fraud. The U.S. Department of Justice asked Canada to extradite Meng; China has gone to court to prevent her extradition.
Issuing international arrest warrants, typically through Interpol, and requesting the extradition of a wanted individual from a country with which there is an extradition treaty, does not constitute interference in that country’s internal affairs.
China has routinely issued Interpol red notices (requests to detain wanted individuals when they are traveling to or residing in another country) for Chinese citizens. It has been credibly accused of abusing the red notice system by using it to target political foes.
In 2019, Variety magazine quoted Meng Qingfeng, China’s deputy minister of public security, as saying that the U.S. and Canada, which do not have extradition treaties with China, have become top destination for Chinese fugitives. That, he said, means Beijing must use the Interpol protocols to bring back such fugitives to face legal action in China.
Forbes magazine described this as the “politicized abuse of the Interpol system” by China. And there is other evidence that the Chinese government seeks extradition for political reasons.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch reported that China was using Interpol to return not only citizens wanted for alleged “corruption,” but also dissidents, including members of the persecuted Uighur minority. China issued a red notice for Wang Zaigang, a pro-democracy advocate. In 2018, China expressed dissatisfaction at Interpol for removing a red notice requested for Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uighur Congress.
More recently, the World Uighur Congress criticized Turkey for signing an extradition treaty with the China in late December 2020. Turkey has long advocated for Uighur rights and provided refuge for Uighur dissidents facing persecution in China.
Uighurs in Turkey have protested the extradition treaty, fearing that China may use it to win the return of Uighur dissidents there.
Beijing sparked protests in 2019-2020 after attempting to introduce a new extradition law that would make it possible for Hong Kong, which had enjoyed broad autonomy based on the 1997 agreement that returned it to mainland control, to extradite fugitives to China.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s statement also referred to “arbitrarily arresting” other countries’ citizens. Meng Wanzhou’s arrest was not arbitrary; charges involved financial fraud and money laundering.
Only days after Meng’s arrest in 2018, China arrested and imprisoned two Canadian nationals in China – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor – on suspicion of “endangering national security.” Since their arrest, Canadian diplomats have had little contact with the prisoners or information about their conditions.
“The Canadian government remains deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor since December 2018 and continues to call for their immediate release,” the Canadian Foreign Ministry said in January 2021.
During his remarks to the Centre for International Governance Innovation on February 9, Vigneult also brought up "Operation Fox Hunt," a Chinese government program that U.S. officials say is designed to stalk and intimidate Chinese nationals living abroad.
In October of 2020, the Justice Department criminally charged eight people for their part in an Operation Fox Hunt “campaign to threaten, harass, surveil and intimidate John Doe-1, a resident of New Jersey, and his family in order to force them to return to the People’s Republic of China.”
Said Vigneult: “A number of foreign states engage in hostile actions that routinely threaten and intimidate individuals in Canada to instill fear, silence dissent, and pressure political opponents. One notable example of this is the Government of China’s covert global operation, known as Operation Fox Hunt, which claims to target corruption but is also believed to have been used to target and quiet dissidents to the regime."