The surprise agreement between US prosecutors and Huawei Technologies Co. executive Meng Wanzhou that allows Meng to return to China after nearly three years of detention in Canada will not reset strained relations among the three nations any time soon, analysts said
Even if China releases Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, the two Canadians arrested for espionage just days after Meng was detained in Vancouver, BC, in December 2018, Beijing’s relationships with the US and Canada are so steeped in mistrust that they will remain deeply troubled, they said.
Canadian officials may have to wait longer than they expect for the return of “the Michaels”, said Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Centre’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. Earlier this year Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison; Kovrig’s sentence is pending. Daly called the espionage charges brought against the two men “fiction”.
Online pictures of Michael Spavor (left) and Michael Kovrig. Photo: Facebook
From the American side, suspicions about Huawei remain – the US attorney in Brooklyn said that while the prosecution of Meng had been deferred, the fraud case against the company continues – as does a belief that China may be emboldened by the tough strategy it took in the Meng affair.
For its part, Beijing has characterised Meng’s detention as part of an effort by Washington to halt Huawei’s rapid accumulation of global market share in the mobile telecoms industry and Ottawa’s involvement in the case as compliance in this campaign.
Chinese officials have also dismissed the US case that Meng misled lender HSBC in a way that caused the bank to violate US sanctions against Iran. On Friday, Meng did not plead guilty to the charges but, as part of the agreement, admitted to providing “knowingly false statements”.
“Step two is for China to release [Spavor and Kovrig] immediately – although China will probably want a decent interval to uphold the fiction that the two Michaels have been handled in accordance with law,” said Daly, who has also served as a US diplomat in Beijing.
“Meng’s release on its own will not lower temperatures in US-China relations; it may even raise them as China claims victory over a wrongful prosecution,” Daly said.
“Neither China nor the United States seems to have made concessions in the handling of the case”, he added. “Beijing will see Meng’s return as a vindication of hostage diplomacy; the key question for Canadians and the rest of the world will be what to make of China’s ready and ongoing embrace of that strategy.”
Ethan Paul, a research associate at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a Washington-based think tank, noted that the Meng agreement is the first move the Biden administration has made on any of the items included in the “two lists” China’s Foreign Vice-Minister Xie Feng presented to US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in July. Top Chinese officials have repeatedly emphasised that those lists represent Beijing‘s core negotiating position, Paul said.
Chinese Foreign Vice-Minister Xie Feng (right) and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (left) at the start of talks in Tianjin on July 26,2021. Photo: Xinhua
“It is possible that Beijing will not move forward with freeing the two Michaels until the charges against Meng are dropped completely”, which based on the terms of the agreement between US prosecutors and Meng, will not happen until December 2022, he added.
“We should not lose sight of the fact that the Biden administration has firmly planted its flag on competition with China as the defining feature of its foreign policy post-Afghanistan,” Paul said.
Adam Segal at the Council on Foreign Relations also doubted that the Meng deal signalled any improvement in US-China relations, saying that it wouldn’t “fundamentally change things”.
“The Biden administration will continue to sanction Huawei, and China will still feel bullied by Meng’s arrest,” said Segal. “The mistrust remains, especially around technology.”
Huawei remains a target of US suspicions and sanctions. Photo: Reuters
The US government has placed Huawei, China’s tech giant, on the Commerce Department’s Entity List since 2019, barring any American supplier from selling products to Huawei, which the US contends has ties with the Chinese government.
The US Department of Justice designated Huawei and scores of its subsidiaries as national security threats and prohibited its products from being installed in US 5G networks.
Even if Meng’s release were to lead to a more cooperative relationship between Washington and Beijing, US President Joe Biden will face criticism that he caved to a country that one of his own military leaders has called America’s “pacing threat for the next decade”.
That charge started soon after news of the agreement broke on Friday.
“Meng Wanzhou violated US sanctions, but the Biden administration chose to appease the Chinese Communist Party rather than enforcing the law,” Senator Tom Cottonl the Arkansas Republican who is a vocal China critic, said in a statement. “Instead of standing firm against China’s hostage-taking and blackmail, President Biden folded.
“This surrender only encourages the Communists in Beijing to take more Americans and our allies hostage in the future.”Internet Explorer Channel Network