On October 27, a report by The Wall Street Journal broke the details of the arrest and release of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s CFO, and the prisoner swap in 2021 that kept tensions high between the United States, Canada, and the Chinese regime through three years of negotiations.
Meng is the daughter of the founder of China’s Huawei Technologies, Ren Zhengfei. As a director, Meng was preparing to go on a four-country tour representing the company. In Mexico, after the recent inauguration of new President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, she was invited as a sign of the government’s interest in building 5G networks in the country, disregarding U.S. warnings about security risks.
Shortly before starting the tour from Hong Kong, the news of the itinerary reached John Bolton’s ears. He was the national security adviser in the Trump administration.
Bolton ordered the arrest of the Huawei director.
When Meng arrived at the Vancouver airport in Canada on Dec. 1, 2018, she was escorted by border guards and her luggage searched, with her computer, cell phones and hard drive confiscated.
One of the guards asked, “Did Huawei ever sell products in Iran?”
He added, “You committed fraud, we are arresting you, and then you will be sent to the United States.”
Meng was taken to the police station, where she was fingerprinted and from where she made the phone call informing a company lawyer what had happened.
The U.S. issued an arrest warrant for bank fraud, alleging that Meng helped conduct business between Huawei and the Iranian regime. The evidence is based on a PowerPoint presentation she showed to an HSBC executive in Hong Kong in 2013. Canadian police made the arrest over assistance agreements with United States.
At the same time, in Buenos Aires, representatives of several countries are meeting at the G-20 summit. Xi Jinping and Donald Trump were scheduled to have dinner to negotiate trade agreements and ease tensions between the two countries. Afterward Trump will show greater firmness when it comes to equalizing the trade balance. Bolton was part of the contingent attending the summit when he issued the arrest warrant. This action could have had negative effects on the meeting, yet he still took the risk. Trump had no knowledge of the plans to arrest Meng.
U.S. national security officials claim that Huawei is assisting the Chinese regime in the formation of a worldwide surveillance network. In 2009, American cyberespionage managed to infiltrate the company’s network and discovered that it could be used to collect national security sensitive information and forward it to the CCP. The Defense Department advised American telecommunications companies not to use Huawei equipment.
They didn’t just see danger within the country. Officials warned that Huawei could control 80% of the market in 5G equipment. Intelligence gathering in allied countries or in organizations such as NATO are a latent threat, so the Trump administration started a campaign to pressure its allies to ban Huawei’s equipment.
Xi Jinping’s reaction
On December 6, after his return to China, Xi was informed of Meng’s arrest. According to those close to him, Xi felt insulted. He had just finished signing a deal with the U.S. to buy more American products.
Xi asked to be provided with the list of Canadian personnel working in the country. He then selected two names.
Days later, two Canadian citizens, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are put in prison on charges of threatening national security.
From that moment, the two countries engaged in a three-year battle of negotiations to free the prisoners, as part of a struggle for control of the flow of information and leadership in world trade.
In the detention center in the city of Dandong, China, Michael Spavor, who organized tours to North Korea, lived in barracks with 20 other prisoners, sleeping next to each other and eating little and poorly. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison for espionage for incriminating photos allegedly found on his cell phone.
Michael Kovrig, who was part of Canada’s diplomatic service in Beijing, spent his imprisonment in a small windowless cell in Beijing’s Detention Center 1. For the first few months he suffered 10 hours of interrogation daily. After 6 months he was allowed to send letters written in prison to his wife.
In Canada, Meng was under house in her $4.2 million Vancouver mansion, and except for the restriction of staying inside from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., she was free to fulfill her routine of zumba, yoga, and shopping in high fashion boutiques. All this surrounded by her staff who attended to her at all times.
Canadian Ambassador Dominic Barton, worked tirelessly for the release of the two Canadians. On the American side, there were diplomatic attempts to reach an agreement, but to no avail. A representative of the Chinese Security Council said, “This is not a U.S. issue.”
Xi would not release the Canadians until he saw Meng in China.
Loosening the rope
With Biden’s arrival in office, the prisoner issue was seen as an obstacle to restoring relations with China.
In an attempt to reduce tensions, the U.S. Justice Department dropped the charges against five Chinese investigators accused of stealing information for the Chinese military.
Shortly thereafter, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman offered a plea deal with American prosecutors. The Chinese side accepted, although it said Meng would not explicitly admit to lying, only that the statements she made to HSBC were “false.”
Xi sent a note to the General Office of the CCP Central Committee agreeing to the hostage exchange.
On September 25, 2021, Meng entered the same airport where three years earlier she had been taken into custody, to take a flight back to China. At the same time, the nightmare ended for the two Canadians as they boarded the plane at Binhai International Airport that would take them home.
The following day, two Chinese-American citizens, the Liu brothers, were also the beneficiaries of the prisoner exchange, and were allowed to return to the United States.
To prevent such situations from recurring, the U.S. persuaded 66 countries to sign a declaration against arbitrary detentions.
Huawei, meanwhile, is trying to survive restrictions on the purchase of microchips and bans on the sale of its 5G equipment in the U.S., UK, France, and now Canada. Google, for its part, withdrew its license to download its software on mobiles and tablets.
On October 24, U.S. prosecutors published charges against two possible Chinese spies for attempted bribery to obtain classified information about the investigation against Huawei.
Will Huawei manage to survive so many attacks on so many fronts? It looks like the Chinese regime is losing one of its eyes.