Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was returning home from Vancouver on Saturday, as two Canadians were released from Chinese prisons, bringing an end to a three-year diplomatic squabble.
Meng and the two Canadians, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, are all on their way home after years of detention in what opponents have dubbed “hostage diplomacy.”
Meng Wanzhou, the 49-year-old daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the wealthy founder of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, was granted parole in a Vancouver court hearing after three years of house arrest in Canada while resisting extradition to the US.
This happened just hours after US prosecutors announced a deal in which fraud charges against her would be delayed and subsequently dropped.
She then swiftly boarded a flight to Shenzhen, returning to China for the first time since her detention on December 1, 2018 at Vancouver’s international airport at the request of US officials.
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the two Canadians held in China had exited Chinese airspace and were returning home.
Their jet was due to land in Canada on Saturday, Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa, adding that they had had “an extremely tough situation.”
The “Two Michaels” were apprehended just days after Meng on “false” espionage accusations, according to Ottawa. Beijing, for its part, described Meng’s case as a “purely political event.”
“The US Government stands with the international community in praising the decision to free the individuals,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Meng told reporters before departing for China: “My life has been turned upside down for the past three years. It was a trying period for me as a mother, wife, and business leader.”
She afterwards tweeted a message from her plane on Chinese social media stating “thank you to the party and government.”
“It is that vivid Chinese red…that leads me on the long journey home,” she wrote.
The case’s outcome removes a major thorn in the relationship between Beijing, Washington, and Ottawa, with China accusing the US of waging a political campaign against one of its industry titans.
Beijing also accused Ottawa of doing Washington’s bidding by arresting and detaining Meng, dubbed the “princess” of Huawei and a prospective future leader within the firm.
Washington charged her of wire fraud and misleading the HSBC bank, alleging that she attempted to conceal violations of US sanctions against Iran by Huawei affiliate Skycom.
On Friday, though, US prosecutors agreed to settle for Meng consenting to a statement of facts in the case.
In exchange, they promised to postpone the accusations until 2022, after which they would be dropped if Meng followed the conditions of the deal.
News of Meng’s acquiescence to the facts was being removed from the internet in China.
State news outlet Xinhua reported that she was returning to China “due to the Chinese government’s unwavering efforts,” while the editor of the state-run Global Times reported that she had been “finally released on a not guilty plea.”
The release of the two Canadians was not mentioned in state media.
The allegations and Meng’s detention were part of a larger campaign against Huawei, a private company that Washington claims is closely linked to the Chinese government and People’s Liberation Army.
According to US officials, Huawei’s phones, routers, and switching equipment, which are extensively used around the world, provide Chinese intelligence with a powerful backdoor into global communications.
Huawei denies any links to the Chinese military.
On Saturday, the business said it would “continue to fight itself against the charges” in US courts.
Caught in the middle, Ottawa attempted to gather allies, particularly Washington, to increase pressure on China to release the two Canadians.
Both were charged in March of this year. Spavor was convicted to 11 years in prison in August, but there had been no ruling in Kovrig’s case.
“All along, Beijing has argued that this is not a case of hostage diplomacy – but they have now made it very plain that it is a hostage swap,” said Lynette Ong, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.
“I believe it will teach China the incorrect lesson: that hostage diplomacy works.”
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, told AFP that the release of Kovrig and Spavor coincided with Meng’s release “confirms that this was hostage diplomacy.”
It also means “one less thorn” in the bilateral relationship, he said, adding that Canada-China relations are unlikely to “return to what they were before.”
Fearured Photo: AFP / Don MacKinnon