For years, China maintained that there was no connection between Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Vancouver and the detention of two Canadians in China. Until they were released on Friday at the same time. Five questions about the conclusion of Meng’s case and the two Michaels.
In a blood red dress and with long, flapping hair, Meng Wanzhou stepped off the flight stairs in the South China city of Shenzhen on Saturday night. “I’m finally home again,” were the first words of the top financial woman of the Chinese tech giant Huawei. “Finally back in the embrace of my motherland”, she said emotionally.
On the runway, Meng, who was released from her house arrest in Vancouver, Canada, on Friday after almost three years, waved to a neatly lined-up welcome committee with Chinese flags “welcome home”, the admirers chanted, and sang patriotic songs. “I have felt the love of the party and the motherland every moment for the past three years,” said 49-year-old Meng, daughter of Huawei’s influential founder, Ren Zhengfei. The images of the spectacle dominated the Chinese news throughout the evening.
On the other side of the world, Canadian ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor were welcomed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Calgary Airport on Saturday morning in more sober circumstances. Visibly emaciated after more than a thousand days in captivity in China, without access to family, Kovrig hugged his wife Vina Nadjibulla at Toronto airport a few hours later. Joy and relief were reflected in their faces, after what Trudeau described as “an incredibly difficult trial.”
The almost simultaneous return of Meng and the two Canadians marked the conclusion of a violent, long-standing diplomatic riot between China, the United States, and Canada. Meng was arrested at Vancouver Airport in december 2018 at the request of the US authorities. They wanted to prosecute her on charges of involvement in violation of US sanctions against Iran. This approach was in line with a hard line taken by the then Trump government to combat China’s rise as a technological superpower-partly thanks to the growth of Huawei.
The arrest of a prominent member of the Chinese elite by Canada at the request of the US provoked great anger in Beijing. Shortly after, Kovrig and Spavor were arrested separately in China. According to the Chinese authorities, this had nothing to do with Meng’s case; they accused the Canadians, who have become internationally known as ‘the two Michaels’, of espionage, without providing any evidence. Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison in August.
But a few hours after Meng was released on Friday in Canada after an agreement with American prosecutors, the two Michaels were also allowed to leave prison in China. Does that mean that the ‘hostage diplomacy’ China has been accused of has worked? Five questions about the conclusion of the long-standing case.
How did this deal come about?
According to unconfirmed reports, Meng Wanzhou had been negotiating with US prosecutors since at least 2020 to reach an agreement on her criminal prosecution. After the election of US President Joe Biden, the American authorities wanted to get rid of the thorny case.
Officially, the release of the two Michaels was not part of that deal: the imprisoned Canadians were not mentioned in the agreement with the prosecutors. It was previously assumed that even if Meng reached an agreement, it could take months before the Canadians were also released, as China from the outset rejected the suggestion that they were being held as a medium of exchange.
The simultaneous release of Meng and the two Michaels now shows that both cases were negotiated as part of the same deal. It seems that the White House, on behalf of Canada, has negotiated the release of the two Michaels as part of the deal.
How can the release of The Michaels be reconciled with the Chinese claim that their arrest had nothing to do with the Meng case?
That pretence is off the table because of the direct exchange. One of the most surprising aspects of last weekend’s developments was how quickly the two Michaels were released after the deal between Meng Wanzhou and American prosecutors became known.
Canada has accused China of “hostage diplomacy” in recent years – a strategy to pressure Canada to intervene in the extradition process against Meng, by arresting two arbitrary Canadian citizens and bringing them to justice without due process. Beijing rejected that allegation as”irresponsible”. In fact, by releasing the two Michaels immediately, China has admitted that this direct link did exist.
However, that does not concern the Chinese public. In the official Chinese media, the release of the Canadians is almost completely ignored. All of the focus is on a Mix, and a red heroine, which has suffered for his country, and the role of the Chinese government, which, in Mengs’s words, as “the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies, and Chinese citizens are rigorously defended.”
The text of her speech was certainly pre-approved, and perhaps written, by the Chinese government: the Chinese ambassador to Canada was also on her flight back to China. Only on social media did some comment on the simultaneous release of the Canadians. “How is it that a convicted Canadian spy is now being released?”, some wonder.
How firm was the case the Americans had against Meng?
Probably not as firm as she hoped when she was arrested. The core of the accusation was that Meng had lied to the bank HSBC. She would not have informed the bank of Huawei’s ties with Hong Kong company Skycom, which supplied equipment to Iran. This would have created the risk that the bank would, without knowing it, violate the US sanctions against Iran.
Meng’s lawyers presented internal HSBC documents this summer that would show that HSBC’s senior officials were well aware of Skycom’s ownership structure and its links with Huawei. However, those documents were not added to her trial in Vancouver, as they would fall outside the scope of handling an extradition request to the US.
For the current deal, Meng has admitted that she deliberately misinformed the HSBC. Yet she didn’t have to plead guilty to fraud. It seems above all to be a compromise to save the cabbage and the goat. The US can thus maintain that Meng did indeed lie, and was therefore arrested for a reason. At the same time, China can maintain that Meng has done nothing wrong. In China, her release is being brought as yet another proof that the US is even trying to prevent the rise of China and Chinese companies by illegal means, but that China will never allow it.
What does this mean for relations?
The release of Meng and the two Michaels puts an end to a painful conflict between China, the United States and Canada. Her release removes an important source of annoyance, but not the underlying tensions, which have increased significantly in recent times. It is a question of which of the two great powers controls which part of the world. And related to that: which political-moral value system will be the global leader for the future? This fight is becoming more and more intense.
For Canada, the imprisonment of the two Michaels under harsh conditions leaves a bitter aftertaste. Relations between Canada and China have fallen to a low point as a result of the issue. Unlike Meng, who stayed in relative luxury in her own Vancouver villa, The Michaels are exposed to the harsh reality of Chinese prison. While this conclusion offers room for some improvement, Canadians have come to see China more as an intimidating superpower than as a friendly nation. For friendly nations do not lock up your citizens without due process to enforce demands.
Has’ hostage diplomacy ‘ processed for China, and can we expect it more often in the future?
Canada was founded that the two Michaels are home without it being openly for Chinese drunk is heavy by intervening in Meng’s extradition process, within the independent judicial process. That was the result Canada wanted. But there was no end to hostage diplomacy. There is also Canadian Robert Schellenberg, who, a few weeks before Meng’s arrest, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for drug trafficking. Name ngs arrest his sentence was changed to a (not yet executed) death penalty in a new trial.
Ok sit on the Australians Cheng Lee and YangHengjun still vest in Chinese prisons. “Canada’s first experience of Chinese hostage diplomacy is over,” wrote Rory Medcalf, head of National Security College at Australian National University, on Twitter. “That of Australia continues.”