Thursday, January 6 2022

In a drizzle in December 2018, Huawei’s CFO landed at Vancouver International Airport after a 12-hour flight from Hong Kong.

Meng Wanzhou, whose father founded telecommunications giant Huawei, planned to stay just a few hours in the Canadian coastal city before heading to Mexico.

Instead, she spent 33 months in Vancouver, at the center of a bitter stalemate between China and the United States – with Canada and two of its citizens unwittingly caught in the middle.

Before she could board her next flight, Meng was pulled over by Canadian border security officers acting at the behest of U.S. officials who wanted Canada to extradite her, so she could be tried for allegedly misleading HSBC into error on Huawei’s trade relations in Iran.

New York prosecutors on Friday announced a settlement under which Meng accepted a statement of fact, in which she was accused of misleading HSBC, but upheld her “not guilty” plea.

His house arrest in Vancouver should be lifted and the extradition case dropped. Now, Justin Trudeau’s government hopes the deal will bring freedom to two Canadians detained by Beijing.

Nine days after Meng’s arrest, Beijing police picked up Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat turned consultant. Kovrig, who speaks Mandarin, had worked full-time for the International Crisis Group since February 2017.

On the same day, Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur who facilitated sports and cultural exchanges between North Korea, China and Canada, was arrested in the northern city of Dandong.

In June 2020, after more than 560 days in detention, China formally charged the two with spying – allegations that were widely seen as fabricated.

A woman holds a sign with images of Michael Kovrig, left, and Michael Spavor, detained in China since December 2018, at a Hong Kong democracy rally in Vancouver, Canada. Photograph: Darryl Dyck / AP

Both men were tried in March. Canadian officials protested both the “arbitrary detention” of Kovrig and Spavor and the secrecy and speed of the court proceedings, which lasted only a few hours.

Canada has accused China of engaging in “hostage diplomacy” to gain Meng’s freedom, but it is the contrast between the conditions endured by the two Michaeles and those enjoyed by Meng that particularly infuriated Canada and its allies.

Neither Kovrig nor Spavor have been released on bail, nor have they received frequent legal advice or consular visits. Neither has seen their family for over 900 days.

In letters, Kovrig told his family that he largely ate a diet of boiled rice, walking 7,000 steps around his cell each day to stay healthy and eagerly read everything he did. could find.

“It’s just incredibly remarkable and inspiring to see how he mobilizes all the resources at his disposal,” his wife, Vina Nadjibulla, told The Guardian last year. The two are separated, but she has remained a strong advocate for his release. “He is doing all he can to come out of this experience healthy and not have been defeated or broken.”

Meng, on the other hand, was quickly released on bail and spent the following months in a multi-million dollar house in Vancouver, where she was visited by a masseuse and an art teacher.

She was free to move around much of the city, although she had to stay in the company of court-appointed security guards during the day. Meng preferred high-end designer stores in Vancouver, according to court documents, so she could shop in private. At night, she remained under house arrest.

Meng spent Christmas Day at a downtown restaurant that catered exclusively to the group of 14 people, according to the documents. His family also came to visit him for the holidays – breaking government rules on isolation protocols during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Michaels, meanwhile, have each been allowed to call their family – the first time Spavor has spoken with his family in more than two years.

“The situation has completely soured bilateral relations between Canada and China, and we have also seen a significant hardening of public attitudes towards China here in Canada in a short period of time,” said Roland Paris, former foreign policy adviser. by Justin Trudeau. .

“Some Canadians are angry, not at the arrests of the two Michael’s in China, but at the way Meng and the two Canadians are being treated.”

There was also anger in China, where Meng’s arrest was seen as a politically motivated decision, part of the “US plan to suppress China’s main tech industry,” said Ma Ji, master. CV Starr lectures at the School of Transnational Law at Peking University.

Meng’s defense team said the evidence against her was fragile, her rights had been violated and Donald Trump had politicized her case and the US evidence against her was fragile.

Despite the diplomatic stalemate, the volume of bilateral trade appears to be on the rise, Paris noted. In the first quarter of this year, Canadian exports to China increased by more than 37% compared to the same period last year, according to Canadian government data.

In early August, China convicted Spavor of espionage – part of what experts have suggested is a strategy to tie the fate of the two men to pivotal times in Meng’s extradition hearings.

Friday’s decision raised hopes that a deal for Canadians could finally be underway.

“This should open the door to the eventual release of the two Michaels,” said Lynette Ong, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. “Of course, a lot could happen by then; there is still a lot of uncertainty.

Ong said Beijing may delay action on Canadian prisoners after Meng returns to China, to maintain the fiction that the cases were unrelated.

But she added: “I am cautiously optimistic that this is the beginning of the end of the saga.”


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