It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Last week a Chinese citizen was suddenly arrested. Spokespeople for her company complained that her human rights had been infringed, she had been handcuffed, and was not getting the medical treatment she needed.

Well, you might think, this happens to Chinese people all the time: human rights lawyers, Uighurs, Tibetans, Protestant pastors, labour agitators, young women who splash paint on pictures of President Xi…

But this case was different. Because it happened in Canada, and the complaining spokespeople were in fact speaking for the Chinese government.

Meng Wanzhou. File

We must applaud the self-control of the Canadian diplomats who refrained from the obvious retort that if China wished other countries to protect the human rights of its citizens it should respect those rights itself.

The lady concerned, Meng Wanzhou, is variously described as the daughter of the founder of Chinese tech company Huawei, and the company’s Chief Financial Officer. Neither of these are government posts, Huawei is a private company. So quite how this qualifies an an international incident is a bit of a puzzle.

It seems that nothing will dissuade the People’s Daily from the view that no Canadian or American court does anything without the knowledge, approval and indeed instructions of their respective governments.

Chinese officials not only disapprove of autonomous legal systems, they cannot recognise one when they see one. Curiously they seem to share this affliction with President Trump.

Well Ms Meng is now confined to a luxurious Vancouver property, while legal proceedings continue and China arrests a few Canadian citizens with a view, perhaps, to a future exchange.

Meng Wanzhou’s Hong Kong Passports. Photo: Handout/Apple Daily.

The only part of this schemozzle which really concerns Hong Kong was the discovery that Ms Meng was the proud owner of no less than three SAR passports. The later two are described as “replacements” for the first one. It seems the Hong Kong government does not require “replaced” passports to be returned, or to be mutilated in a way which would preserve visas but make it clear that the passport is not current.

Well, we can leave that to the usual people. I note only that the reproductions of the passports for public view had some numbers blacked out but left the lady’s date of birth visible, which seems ungallant.

The other local offering came from legislator Regina Ip, who expressed dismay at the turn of events and said that in protest at the victimisation of the lady she was going to switch her phone purchases to Huawei.

Photo: Regina Ip screenshot, via Facebook.This is the same Regina Ip who assured us recently that an appeal panel consisting of three Exco members would give a “fair and impartial” hearing to the Hong Kong National Party’s attempt to remain a registered society. Does she think Ms Meng will not get a “fair and impartial hearing” in a Canadian court?

Then came the sequel, in which Ms Meng soon featured in a procedure unknown to Chinese jurisprudence: she appeared before an impartial judge, in a courtroom open to the press and public, with the lawyer of her choice to speak on her behalf.

If I was a Canadian I would be rather offended by the assumption that the whole incident was engineered in Canada for political purposes. Countries have extradition treaties and these impose obligations.

It would be nice if Chinese officials could get their heads around the idea that other countries’ legal systems differ from theirs. And the “we have been offended; arrest a Canadian or two to teach them a lesson” move is a bad look.

Also, complaints about human rights violations elsewhere from a regime which tramples them daily will not be taken very seriously. Except perhaps by Beijing’s supporters in Hong Kong.

Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.