Advice to Canadians in China after third Canadian detained: ‘Lie low’

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TORONTO — Experts say the detaining of an Alberta woman over what authorities call employment issues could signal a ramping up of low-level harassment for Canadians living in China.

Lynette Ong, with the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto, says Canada’s relationship with China fundamentally changed with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of tech giant Huawei in Vancouver on Dec. 1.

Wanzhou was arrested at the request of the United States, where she is wanted on fraud allegations.

Her arrest enraged China which demanded her release and warned of serious consequences.

Ong says the Chinese government could react by creating bureaucratic inconveniences for Canadians, including cracking down on people who have overstayed their visas while awaiting their renewal.

She says Canadians who study or do business in China may want to “lie low and keep a low profile.”

“In the short term, in the next couple of months, I would try to cease any operations in China,” she said Thursday. “I would definitely avoid taking any risky activities because the political environment is just not conducive.”

Law-enforcement officials allege that Wanzhou lied to U.S. banks about a corporate structure devised to get around sanctions against Iran. In China, Ong said Canada is seen as helping the United States with its politically calculated strategy to contain their country.

The Chinese government likely wants to show it has bargaining power by making life difficult for Canadians and Canadian businesses, she said. Overstaying a visa while awaiting renewal was previously a grey area that wouldn’t land people in trouble but might now become a problem.

“But in this situation where there are bilateral tense relationships, the whole country might want to be tougher than usual,” said Ong. “It seems to me that her case falls into one of these categories.”

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Thursday a Canadian woman had received an administrative penalty for illegal employment. It did not provide further details.

Several news outlets reported on Wednesday it is Sarah McIver, an Albertan who has been teaching in China for months. The National Post reported that she was teaching at a school in China when she was detained due to “visa complications,” and that arrangements were being made for her return to Canada.

Consular officials are providing assistance to the detainee’s family, Global Affairs Canada said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he didn’t believe the case was linked to the recent arrests of two other Canadians in the country. He said Wednesday that the latest case, so far, doesn’t involve serious allegations related to China’s national security.

“These are two very different situations,” Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa. “There are tens of thousands of Canadians who live, travel, work in China in any given year. There are obviously regular situations where Canadians require consular assistance.”

He added that the government is taking the most recent case seriously and raised visa issues as the sort of thing that might draw Chinese authorities’ attention.

The Canadian Press