Tag Archives: rule by law

China Tries Canada’s Resolve

THE CASES OF Robert Schellenberg, a convicted Canadian facing the death penalty in China, and Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer facing extradition from Canada, have no legal connection beyond timing.

In November 2018, Schellenberg was sentenced to 15 years in jail, having been convicted of planning in 2014 to smuggle a large quantity of methamphetamine to Australia, a charge to which he pleaded not guilty.

The following January, after a one-day retrial ordered after he appealed the sentence, the Dalian Intermediate People’s Court ruled the original sentence was too lenient and imposed the death penalty.

This occurred shortly after police in Canada detained Meng while changing flights in Vancouver in response to an extradition warrant from the United States, where she is wanted on fraud charges.

Nine days after Meng’s detention, two other Canadian citizens, Michael Spavor, a businessman, and Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, were arrested by authorities on espionage charges.

The two men were tried days apart in March; Spavor in Dandong and Kovrig in Beijing. No verdicts or sentences were announced after either hearing. Both were closed to Canadian diplomats on the grounds that trials involving state secrets are not open to the public.

Canadian officials expect at least one sentence, most likely Spavor’s, to be announced imminently. (Update: Spavor has been sentenced to 11 years in prison.) On August 10, a court in Shenyang denied Schellenberg’s appeal against the death sentence. He has one legal recourse left, an appeal to China’s Supreme Court.

The timing is pertinent. Meng’s appeal against her extradition is due to conclude on August 20.

It is difficult not to conclude that Beijing is exploiting the Canadians’ cases to put pressure on Canada. Canadian officials have called it hostage diplomacy.

Beijing denies any political connection, as would be expected: the judicial system is taking its natural course with three defendants facing serious charges.

The independence of the Canadian judiciary should insulate it from political pressure from Ottowa, should the Trudeau government choose to exert it. Doubling the jeopardy for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he likely faces a general election later this year. The cases are already a pre-campaign campaign issue in Canada.

However, even if Canada is steadfast in not releasing Meng as Beijing wants, or, even less likely, the Biden administration drops its extradition warrant for Meng, the potential arrest of foreign nationals may have a chilling effect on the Canadian or other governments in future. China’s legal system makes it straightforward for authorities to find pretexts for taking foreign nationals hostage.

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Zhou Yongkang Gets His Preordained Day In Court, Life Imprisonment

THE TIANJIN MUNICIPAL No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court has sentenced Zhou Yongkang to life imprisonment. The ruling follows the court’s conviction of the former head of the security apparatus on charges of bribery, abuse of power and disclosing state secrets.  The short trial was held behind closed doors on May 22nd, state media report.

Neither the verdict nor the sentence handed down on the most senior figure to be brought low by President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign comes as much of a surprise to this Bystander.

Zhou’s protege was the disgraced Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai, who challenged Xi for the leadership. Bo is now in prison following his wife’s murder of British businessman Neil Heywood and a slew of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power convictions. The charges against both men were narrowly economic, not specifically political.

However, for all the new leadership’s embrace of rule by law, both cases look a lot like politics by other means.

Zhou is the highest ranking Party official ever to have been found guilty of corruption. His trial broke the Party’s unofficial rule that the highest level officials don’t get prosecuted whatever their crimes. The public message may be that no official is above the law, but the internal one will be that no official is above Xi’s ever-growing authority.

Recognition of that may well mean than Zhou is the last ‘big tiger’ that will be netted by Xi’s anti-corruption campaign. Plenty of flies to be swatted yet though, and also some small tigers if they stand in the way of Xi’s reform plans.

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The Case Of Zhou Yongkang And Politics By Other Means

THE FATE OF Zhou Yongkang, former head of the security apparatus and the most senior figure to be brought low by President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, neatly underscores the difference between rule of law and rule by law. The 72-year old Zhou faces charges of bribery, abuse of power and the intentional disclosure of state secrets, a formal indictment that, for all the putative improvements to the judicial system, will lead to a guilty verdict as surely as night follows day.

However, Zhou, a former Politburo member, is far from alone among senior Party figures that have enriched themselves and friends and families by dint of their position. The investigation and criminal charges against him are politics by other means.

Zhou’s protege was the disgraced Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai. Bo challenged Xi for the leadership and is now in prison following his wife’s murder of British businessman Neil Heywood and a slew of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power convictions.

Scores of Zhou acolytes in Sichuan province and in the oil industry, a powerful vested interest that poses obstacles to Xi’s economic reforms, have also been investigated and in many cases prosecuted. Before becoming security chief Zhou was a senior official at state-owned oil giant China National Petroleum Corp. and Party boss in the southwestern province.

The charges against Zhou are narrowly economic, not specifically political, even though the Supreme Court’s annual work report to last month’s National Peoples Congress accused both Zhou and Bo of “trampling on the rule of law, violating the party’s unity, [and] engaging in unauthorized political activities”. Narrowing the scope makes it easier for Beijing to stage an ‘open’ trial and keep the focus on the anti-corruption campaign rather than subject itself to the risks of airing the Party’s dirty laundry in public.

Zhou’s case will be heard in a court in Tianjin, in accordance with a practice of trying senior party officials in cities where the accused has no power base and local court officials can be relied upon to rule by law.

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