AFP
Wire Service
5 minute read
25 Sep 2021
3:53 pm

Two Canadians freed by China arrive in Canada

AFP

They arrived back in Calgary, western Canada on Saturday after nearly 1000 days in China and were shown on TV being greeted and hugged by Trudeau.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces a major challenge after Covid-19 took a hefty toll on the economy, which fell 38.7 percent in the second quarter. AFP/Lars Hagberg

Two Canadians freed from years of detention in China as part of a three-way deal involving the US arrived in their country Saturday and were greeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

TV footage aired by CTV showed Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor arriving in Calgary in western Canada in the wee hours of Saturday when it was still dark. The two men, wearing suits and face masks, were greeted and hugged warmly by Trudeau at the airport.

The encounter was the culmination of a deal that saw Canada release the Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was also headed home to China Saturday.

Meng, the 49-year-old daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the billionaire founder of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, was granted release in a Vancouver court hearing after three years of house arrest in Canada while fighting extradition to the United States.

She was arrested at Vancouver airport at the behest of US authorities on December 1, 2018.

The “two Michaels” – as they have been dubbed by international media – were detained in China just days after Meng was, on what Ottawa has contended were “trumped-up” espionage charges. 

In turn, Beijing called Meng’s case “a purely political incident.”

Huawei executive freed in Canada after deal with US prosecutors

Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was headed home from Vancouver on Saturday as two Canadians released from prison in China reportedly arrived in Calgary, ending a bitter diplomatic row that has poisoned ties for three years.

Meng and the two Canadians – former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor – were detained in a bitter spat critics have called “hostage diplomacy”. 

Meng, the 49-year-old daughter of Ren Zhengfei, the billionaire founder of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, was granted release in a Vancouver court hearing after three years of house arrest in Canada while fighting extradition to the United States.

This came hours after US prosecutors announced an agreement under which fraud charges against her are to be suspended and eventually dropped.

She then quickly boarded a flight to the city of Shenzhen, returning to China for the first time since her arrest at Vancouver’s international airport at the behest of US authorities in December 2018.

Lawyers for Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, pictured in May, went to court on Monday to press for the release of classified documents in her extradition case.. AFP/File/Don MacKinnon

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Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the two detained Canadians had left Chinese airspace, adding they had gone through “an unbelievably difficult ordeal.”

They arrived back in Calgary, western Canada on Saturday, and were shown on TV being greeted and hugged by Trudeau.

The “two Michaels” – as they have been dubbed by international media – were detained just days after Meng on what Ottawa has contended were “trumped-up” espionage charges. 

In turn, Beijing called Meng’s case “a purely political incident.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “the US Government stands with the international community in welcoming the decision” to release the men.

Speaking to reporters before heading to China, Meng said: “Over the past three years, my life has been turned upside down. It was a disruptive time for me as a mother, wife and a company executive.”

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Saturday that the detention of Meng was an “incident of political persecution against a Chinese citizen.”

“The so-called ‘fraud’ allegation against Meng Wanzhou is totally fabricated,” she said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Huawei’s ‘princess’

The resolution of the case removes a deep thorn in the relationship between Beijing, Washington and Ottawa, with China accusing the US of a political attack on one of its technology titans. 

Beijing also accused Ottawa of doing Washington’s bidding by arresting and holding Meng, known inside Huawei as the “princess” of the company and its possible future leader.

Washington had accused her of wire fraud and deceiving HSBC bank, saying she tried to hide violations of US sanctions on Iran by Huawei affiliate Skycom.

But on Friday, US prosecutors settled for Meng agreeing to a statement of facts in the case.

In exchange, they agreed to defer the charges until 2022, and then drop them if Meng abides by the terms of the agreement.

In China, news of Meng’s agreement was being scrubbed from the internet.

State news agency Xinhua said she was returning to China “through unremitting efforts of the Chinese government”, while the editor of state-run Global Times said she had been “finally released on a not guilty plea.”

A red banner hanging at Shenzhen airport arrivals hall read “Welcome home Meng Wanzhou” and a crowd of about 200 supporters gathered waving Chinese flags and banners.

Some chanted “Go Huawei!”

“I think China is going to… turn Meng Wanzhou’s release into a big victory, a diplomatic victory,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Professor of Political Science at Hong Kong Baptist University.

He said the government would build a propaganda campaign to “ignore the accusations against her and give the illusion that she was wrongly accused of crimes she never committed.”

‘Hostage diplomacy’

The charges and Meng’s arrest were enmeshed in a broader campaign against Huawei. Washington says the firm has close links to the Chinese government and military, accusations it denies.

The company Saturday said it will “continue to defend itself against the allegations” in US courts.

Caught in between, Ottawa sought to rally allies, including Washington, to hike pressure on Beijing to release the two Canadians.

Both were put on trial in March this year. In August, Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison, while there had been no decision in Kovrig’s case.

“All the while Beijing has insisted that this is not a case of hostage diplomacy – but now they have made it abundantly clear that it is a hostage exchange,” said Lynette Ong, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

“I think it will probably send the wrong lesson to China – that hostage diplomacy works.”