China is defending its arrest of two Canadian citizens and denying there is any link with Canada's recent detention and release on bail of a Chinese tech executive.
Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is awaiting possible extradition to the United States on charges she misled banks about Huawei's control of a company operating in Iran. Those actions put the banks at risk of violating U.S. sanctions.
Her case has become increasingly complex both politically and diplomatically and has been linked to the ongoing U.S.-China trade war.
Still, despite Beijing's claims to the contrary, China is rallying the power of its one-party state and tightly controlled media behind Huawei and Meng and the message from both is increasingly clear: If Meng is not released, there will be consequences.
Many see the arrest of two Canadian citizens — businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Korvig — this week as a key example of that kind of retribution.
"This is obviously a kind of political retaliation," said Li Jinjin, a New York-based lawyer. "It is the equivalent to informing Canada in advance that the Chinese government would take retaliatory measures."
According to their friends who spoke with Reuters, Spavor and Korvig know each other but there has been little indication that their cases are related.
Spavor has acted as a translator for former U.S. National Basketball Association star Dennis Rodman on trips to North Korea and is said to have close contacts to the reclusive nation and its leader Kim Jong Un.
Kovrig, who is still technically employed by the Canadian foreign affairs department, took a leave of absence in 2016 to join the Hong Kong-based International Crisis Group as a senior adviser in North East Asia.
The group has called for Kovrig's immediate release.
Meng's case links?
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang has said the two Canadian nationals are "separately in the process of being investigated" on suspicion of harming Chinese national security.
He denied their investigation is linked to Meng's case.
"We believe Meng's arrest was a mistaken action and demand Canada to immediately correct its wrongdoing and release her. In terms of the two Canadians' cases, Chinese authorities have taken measures 'according to the law'," Lu told a regular press briefing Thursday night.
The charge against both of violating national security is a vague one and can easily be used for political manipulation, notes Teng Biao, a former human rights lawyer and a visiting scholar at the Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies.
"Based on previous cases, many people's normal activities, such as rights activism, have also been charged for subverting state power or inciting subversion of state power," Teng said. "Therefore, a vague crime such as 'crimes against national security' is more easily used for political manipulation."
From the moment Meng was taken into custody, Chinese authorities have made it clear that there would be severe consequences if she was not released immediately.
State media has echoed that sentiment, accusing Canada of acting like it was the 51st state of the U.S. and prodding it to ignore Washington's extradition request.
While the government has been more subtle in voicing its views, state media has not.
The headline for a video posted on the website of the party-backed nationalistic tabloid, the Global Times, was blunt: "China will take revenge if Canada does not restore Meng's freedom."
In the video, the paper's editor-in-chief, Hu Xijin, who also denies a connection between Meng's case in Canada and the arrest of Canadians in China, said, "China will definitely take retaliatory measures. I believe Canada expects as much along with international public opinion."
Lu Shaye, China's ambassador to Canada, also weighed in, arguing that it is "hypocritical" to criticize China's detention of two Canadians, in light of what's happened to Meng.
In an opinion piece published Thursday by the Globe and Mail newspaper, Lu said Meng's detention is "a premeditated political action in which the United States wields its regime power to witch-hunt a Chinese high-tech company out of political consideration."
Unlike his foreign counterparts, who are rarely given similar room to voice their views on Chinese state media, Lu went on to blame the United States for using national strength to pursue power politics against China.
China's motive to politicize Meng's case is thus clear, analysts say.
"That way, there can be a political solution (rather than a legal one). Trump also thinks similarly," Chinese commentator Deng Yuwen tweeted Wednesday.
Canada, for its part, is finding itself uncomfortably stuck in the middle of the Sino-U.S. dispute, especially after U.S. President Donald Trump revealed his willingness to intervene in Meng's case — a comment that suggests Meng could be a negotiable pawn.
That prompted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to clarify by saying "regardless of what goes on in other countries, Canada is and will always remain a country of the rule of law." Its foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, insisted that any foreign country requesting extradition should ensure "the process is not politicized."
State media has called on Chinese citizens to show their patriotism for Huawei by dumping foreign competitors such as Apple, but few who spoke with VOA on the street said the case would change their mind about what products they buy.
"I don't think the [political] dispute will affect my own preferences for U.S. products, many of which such as cars, mobile phones and computers are indeed of good quality," said one man, who works in education.
"We shouldn't see it that way, that China is catching up to outperform the U.S. Both countries should engage in a benign competition, in which, mutual development should be allowed, right?" another added.
Some, however, voiced support for Meng and Huawei and concern about how the United States was using its own laws and sanctions against Iran to go after the company and its CFO.
"The U.S. has shown growing fears about the rise and development of China," said one woman.
On the legal side, Jerome Cohen, a law professor at New York University, said that he believes both the U.S. and Canadian governments have had long discussions to come up with the uniform policy of pressing ahead with extradition, albeit the timing is undiplomatic.
"From a law professors point of view, it's good for people to learn more about the legal system and about extradition … and it might be good if people in China are allowed to learn about it, [so] that they could see how an independent legal system really functions," he said.
VOA Mandarin service contributed to this report.