China Releases Two Jailed Canadians In Exchange For Huawei Executive

In a sudden resolution to a diplomatic crisis, a top Huawei executive left Vancouver, British Columbia and flew home as China released two jailed Canadians.

For almost three years, Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, was under house arrest in Vancouver as she battled extradition to the U.S. on fraud charges. Across the Pacific, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor -- detained within days of Meng’s December 2018 arrest -- languished in Chinese jails, pawns in a geopolitical battle between the U.S. and China.

The impasse came to a rapid resolution this past weekend after Meng struck a deferred prosecution agreement with U.S. authorities to resolve criminal charges against her. Within hours, the Supreme Court of British Columbia discharged her and Meng immediately left for the airport to board a chartered Air China flight back to Shenzhen, home to Huawei’s headquarters.

Shortly after, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the two Michaels, as they’re known in Canada, were also on their way home.

China on Saturday reiterated its stance on the issue, saying the arrest of Meng was a political persecution against Chinese citizens with a purpose to suppress Chinese high-tech companies.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that his government welcomed China’s decision to release the two Canadians "after more than two-and-a-half years of arbitrary detention."

The long-running case became a symbol of the intensifying geopolitical rivalry between the U.S. and China. Within days of Meng’s arrest, Chinese authorities jailed the two Canadians, triggering a diplomatic showdown that has cost billions of dollars in lost trade and plunged bilateral relations between China and Canada to their worst point in decades.

U.S. prosecutors in Brooklyn had charged Meng with fraud, accusing her of lying to HSBC Holdings Plc about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran as part of an attempt to violate U.S. trade sanctions. Meng had denied any wrongdoing and accused the U.S. of overreach.

Appearing by video on Friday, Meng pleaded not guilty in a Brooklyn courtroom but subsequently admitted to misleading a financial institution about Huawei’s business operations in Iran.

U.S. government lawyers said they will defer prosecution in the matter and dismiss the charges entirely by December 1, 2022, if Meng complies with terms of the agreement, which include refraining from saying anything that contradicts U.S. prosecutors’ stated facts about the case.

Huawei said in a statement on Saturday that it looks "forward to seeing Ms Meng returning home safely to be reunited with her family."

Since Meng’s arrest during an airport stopover in Vancouver, her case has emerged as part of a broader effort by the U.S. government to contain Huawei, which Washington has designated a national security threat.