WASHINGTON, D.C. – China, accused of successfully playing “hostage politics,” on Friday, released two Canadian citizens from prison roughly an hour after the United States had put an executive of Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies – who had been charged with fraud – on a plane back to her home country, bringing an end to three years of legal and political turmoil.
Huawei’s chief finance officer, Meng Wanzhou, 49, had been arrested in 2018 in Canada at the request of the Trump Administration’s Justice Department for eventual extradition to the U.S. on charges of stealing trade secrets and selling equipment to Iran via a shell company called Skycom – and misleading the HSBC bank about it – which violated sanctions that then-President Trump had imposed upon the Middle Eastern country.
Meng, however, fought the Justice Department’s extradition request, and had remained in Canadian custody as the legal wrangling played out.
Shortly after Meng’s arrest in Canada, China had announced that they had arrested two Canadian citizens in their country – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor accusing them of espionage, but many found the timing to be potentially much more than a mere coincidence.
After a great deal of heightened tensions and political turmoil between the U.S., Canada, and China, the ordeal finally came to an end Friday when Meng had reached an agreement with feds to have the fraud charges against her dropped in December 2022 – four years after her arrest – as long as she adheres to certain provisions, such as not publicly disagreeing with the Justice Department’s allegations and accepting responsibility for misrepresenting Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.
Upon reaching a deal with U.S. feds, Meng was allowed to immediately get on a plane and return to China. Huawei is the world’s largest manufacturer of telecommunications equipment and second largest manufacturer of smartphones, and the release and impending arrival home of Meng – daughter of Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei – was a top story on Chinese internet and television news broadcasts.
Within an hour after Meng had left Canada for China, it was revealed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Kovrig and Spavor had been released by the Chinese government after 1,000 days in captivity and were on their way home as well.
The deal was achieved due to the efforts of U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who had wanted to decrease the public tensions that had developed between the two countries on a variety of issues, with Biden saying that he did not want to start “a new Cold War,” and Xi noting that their issues “need to be handled through dialogue and cooperation.”
While the release of Kovrig and Spavor was applauded by Trudeau, China’s actions throughout the four-year incident were harshly criticized by many, with Brahma Chellaney, a New Delhi-based geostrategist and author, accusing China on Twitter of “hostage diplomacy.”
“The US ended the Meng Wanzhou case the way it began it — politically. The real loser is Canada, whose willingness to do US’s bidding proved costly. The case will be remembered for China’s thuggish action in holding two Canadians hostage and eventually compelling the US to yield,” he said. “By letting Ms. Meng return to China, Biden has vindicated China’s holding of two innocent Canadians hostage since 2018. Canada had contended that its judicial system was insulated from any political influence. China’s successful hostage diplomacy is a real shot in the arm for Xi.”