- - Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Lai Changxing, the primary suspect in China’s biggest smuggling case since the founding of the communist state, was charged last week after a 12-year legal battle between China and Canada, according to official Chinese press.

Mr. Lai had applied for asylum repeatedly in Canada, but his applications were denied several times.

Known as the Yuanhua case in China, this legal entanglement is far more than a simple smuggling case. The timing of the legal action was viewed as a snub to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was visiting the communist country.

Mr. Lai formed an obscure commercial entity called Yuanhua Group in 1994. Within a couple of years, Mr. Lai became a real estate tycoon in the southern coastal city of Xiamen. His main method for accumulating wealth was to collude with communist officials at all levels in large-scale smuggling operations worth an estimated $13 billion.

After the graft was exposed and several high government officials were implicated, Mr. Lai fled China and arrived in Canada with false documents in 1999. He applied for asylum, claiming he would face certain death if forced to return to China.

His case divided the Canadian political and legal establishment.

On the one hand was the issue of China’s human rights abuses, such as summarily executing real or alleged criminals without adequate due process. All major international human rights groups have reported that more prisoners are executed each year in China than the rest of the world combined.

On the other hand, during Mr. Lai’s 12-year legal battle in Canada, Beijing exerted great pressure on Ottawa to extradite Mr. Lai to China to face certain death.

Eventually, the Canadians buckled under Chinese political pressure and sent Mr. Lai on a Beijing-bound plane on July 22. He was arrested upon arrival.

The Canadians were able to extract a face-saving unofficial promise from China that Mr. Lai would not be put to death because doing so would violate Canada’s legal principles.

Curiously, at the same time of the Harper visit a similar legal, diplomatic and geopolitical drama unfolded in China, as Wang Lijun, vice mayor of Chongqing, entered the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu reportedly seeking asylum.

After 24 hours of high international drama, he ended up in the custody of Chinese secret police after a flurry of busy communications traffic in Washington, Beijing and Chengdu.

U.S. officials said Mr. Wang walked out and surrendered to the Chinese secret police “of his own volition.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is investigating the incident and has asked the State Department to produce all cables, memos and email related to the affair.

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