To Get Meng Wanzhou Back, China Uses a Hardball Tactic: Seizing Foreigners
In a swift climax to a 1,030-day standoff, China has welcomed a company executive whose arrest in Canada and possible extradition to the United States has made him the epicenter of superpower friction. In getting him back, Beijing brandishes a formidable political tool: using detained foreign nationals as bargaining chips in disputes with other countries.
The executive, Meng Wanzhou, landed in China Saturday night local time to a public that widely views her as a victim of arrogant American excesses. At the same juncture, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians who had been detained by Chinese authorities just days after Ms Meng’s arrest, were released and returned to Canada.
The exchange resolves one of those festive controversies that has turned tensions between Washington and Beijing to the worst in decades. But it will do little to address deeper issues, including human rights, widespread repression in Hong Kong, cyber espionage, China’s threat to use force against Taiwan and fears in Beijing that the United States will never accept China’s rise. .
The swiftness of the clear deal also serves as a warning to leaders of other countries that the Chinese government may be dealing boldly with foreign nationals, said Donald C. Clark, a law school specializing in China at George Washington University’s law school. Professor of.
“They’re not even going to pretend that it was anything other than a straight hostage situation,” he said of two Canadians who were on trial on espionage charges. Mr Spavor was sentenced last month to 11 years in prison, and Mr Kovrig awaits a verdict in his case after trial in March.
“In a sense, China has strengthened its bargaining position in future such talks,” Professor Clark said. “They’re saying, if you give them what they want, they’ll deliver as agreed.”
Chinese media reports told of his release and his going home, given up on his admission for some wrongdoing or that it did not amount to a formal guilty plea. On China’s Internet, Ms Meng was praised as a patriotic symbol of China standing up to Western bullying. His plane was found at the airport in Shenzhen, China, by an enthusiastic crowd waving Chinese flags.
“Without a mighty homeland, I would not have my freedom today,” Ms Meng said in a statement released from her flight.
Chinese news media rarely mentioned the release of Mr Spavor and Mr Kovrig, leading to the impression that Beijing paid nothing for their return.
Experts said that to say that a clear swap is a sign that a thaw in the relationship would be at best.
President Biden has designated China as a major challenger to US superiority. The release came as he hosted the first face-to-face leaders meeting of the Quad, a grouping of the United States, India, Japan and Australia united by their fears about China’s power and intentions in Asia. This month, Mr Biden unveiled a new security deal with Australia and Britain, and plans to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
While Canadian officials and US prosecutors have insisted they treat Ms Meng’s case as a purely legal matter, politics lurked in the background since she was arrested at an airport in Vancouver on December 1, 2018. Is.
Nine days later, security officials escorted Mr. Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, down a street in Beijing. Mr Spavor was seized the same day in Dandong, a Chinese city facing North Korea, a country he had long traded in. While Ms Meng was allowed to stay at her Vancouver mansion, two Canadians were jailed under very harsh conditions.
Chinese officials rejected the idea that Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were in fact hostages. But Canadians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have ridiculed her refusal, and Chinese officials and media commentators have sometimes hinted that a settlement could be reached in return for Ms Meng’s release.
The United States alleged that in 2013 Ms. Meng lied to a bank about whether Huawei – the telecommunications company founded by her father, Ren Zhengfei, and where she was chief financial officer – had violated a company doing business in Iran. was in control. US sanctions. Ms Meng’s lawyers argued that she was truthful.
According to two additional people familiar with the talks, despite the stances on both sides, the United States and Ms. Meng had some incentive to find some degree of common ground because neither of them was completely sure they would. Will win the battle on his extradition.
His lawyers argued that there was an abuse of process in the case against him, notably President Donald J. Trump’s remarks that he may intervene to secure a trade deal with Beijing.
John Bolton, who served as Mr Trump’s national security adviser, wrote in his memoir, “Trump made matters worse by saying on several occasions that Huawei could be another US bargaining chip in the trade talks.”
While Canadian courts heard the arguments, there were signs that Washington and Beijing were trying to find common ground. Talks between Ms Meng’s team and the Justice Department began more than a year ago, a person familiar with the conversation said.
At the State Department, two Canadians appeared as a priority in human rights matters. The department said at the time, when Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, joined talks in China in July, saying they “raised matters of American and Canadian citizens”.
Last week, President Biden held a telephone conversation with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Neither side gave details, but Mr. Xi’s public comments suggested he wanted to defuse tensions. Both sides, Mr. Xi said, “China-US relations should be put back on the right track of stable development as soon as possible,” according to China’s official summary.
Public resolution, however, may have been slowed by Canada’s recent election. The prime minister, Mr Trudeau, took office again in an election last week, although he failed to secure a commanding majority in parliament.
The Chinese government’s hardball strategy may have been successful in springing up Ms Meng, but it appears to have created a permanent oidium in Canada, reflecting the political cost of seizing foreign nationals. More than 70 percent of Canadian respondents to a Pew Research Center survey this year had an unfavorable view of China. There has been increased opposition to buying Huawei equipment.
But under Mr. Xi, Chinese officials have been courageous in rejecting Western criticism. They have said Ms Meng’s arrest was politically political and is willing to go to great lengths to make sure she does not face trial in the United States.
“It was political persecution of a Chinese national with the goal of crushing a Chinese high-tech enterprise,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a statement about Ms Meng on Saturday. “The actions taken by the United States and Canada were classic arbitrary deterrence.”
John Chem, a US businessman who has negotiated with Chinese officials for decades, said Beijing could release US citizens held in China as part of a diplomatic deal. Some are in custody, others under exit restrictions that prevent them from leaving China.
“I think we can now expect other shoes to fall – movement on other matters,” Mr Kam said by telephone.
Ms Meng received a hero’s welcome upon her return, but before she can move on, she must first undergo a three-week quarantine under China’s stringent rules for COVID-19. While in Canada, she lived in her seven-room gated home in Vancouver and could move around with a tracker device at an angle to her left.
Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor landed at Calgary International Airport on Saturday morning, where Mr Trudeau and his Foreign Minister Mark Garneau greeted them. The two Michaels will face the glare of attention, and then the difficulties of adjusting after years of detention with little human contact.
Margaret Lewis, a professor at Seton Hall Law School who studies criminal justice in China, said, “Restricting your movement is still a denial of freedom, but the difference between what Meng experienced and what he did last night.” Another day.” “His worst ordeal is over, but his wounds will continue.”
ian austen Contributed reporting from Ottawa and Dan Bilefsky Contributed from Montreal. Claire Fu contributed to the research.
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