China’s government was eagerly anticipating the return of a top executive from global communications giant Huawei Technologies on Saturday following what amounted to a high-stakes prisoner swap with Canada and the U.S.
Meng Wanzhou, 49, Huawei’s chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, reached an agreement with U.S. federal prosecutors that called for fraud charges against her to be dismissed next year. As part of the deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, she accepted responsibility for misrepresenting the company’s business dealings in Iran.
The same day, two Canadian citizens held by Beijing were freed and flown back to Canada.
Meng was expected to arrive late Saturday in the southern technology hub of Shenzhen, where Huawei is based.
Her pending return was a top item on the Chinese internet and on state media, with the ruling Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper declaring the resolution of the case a “glorious victory for the Chinese people” achieved through the “unremitting efforts of the Chinese government.”
“The evidence shows this was purely a case of the political persecution of a Chinese citizen with the purpose of suppressing China’s technological advancement,” the paper said. “No force can block China’s forward progress,” it added.
In an emailed statement, Huawei said it was looking forward to Meng’s return and would “continue to defend itself against the allegations.”
The company also sent a statement from Meng’s lawyer, William W. Taylor III, saying Meng had “not pleaded guilty and we fully expect the indictment will be dismissed with prejudice after fourteen months.”
Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor were arrested in China in December 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Meng on a U.S. extradition request. China charged them with endangering national security and sentenced Kovrig to 11 years in prison, although their arrests were widely viewed as an attempt by Beijing to gain leverage in the Meng case.
“These two men have been through an unbelievably difficult ordeal. For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance and grace and we are all inspired by that,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.
The case had caused a huge rift in China-Canada relations, with Beijing launching regular broadsides against the Canadian justice system and banning some imports from the country. In addition, two Canadians convicted in separate drug cases in China were sentenced to death in 2019. A third, Robert Schellenberg, received a 15-year sentence that was abruptly increased to the death penalty after Meng’s arrest. It wasn’t immediately clear if those prisoners might receive any reprieve.
In Shenzhen, a 20-year old job seeker at the headquarters of Huawei repeated a government view that Meng’s arrest was driven by politics and rivalry with the U.S. over technology and global influence.
“I think (this) was to stop Huawei’s development in the world,” said the man, who gave only his surname, Wang, as is common with Chinese speaking to foreign media. “It’s a very important reason — nobody wants other countries to have better technology than itself.”
The frenetic chain of events involving the global powers brought an abrupt end to legal and geopolitical wrangling that for the past three years has roiled relations between Washington, Beijing and Ottawa.
Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies and a symbol of China’s progress in becoming a technological world power that has received massive government backing. It has also been a subject of U.S. security and law enforcement concerns, with officials and analysts saying it and other Chinese companies have flouted international rules and norms and stolen technology and vital personal information.