The saga of the “Huawei case” is over, and with it one of the main stumbling blocks in relations between Washington and Ottawa on one side, and Beijing on the other. At the same time that the Chinese tech giant’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, travels to China after the United States dropped the charges against her, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have also been released and are on a plane back home. country.
“Twelve minutes ago, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor left Chinese airspace, on their way home,” announced Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, without giving further details on the release of his two compatriots, “an operation currently in progress. course”. Both will land in Canada this Saturday. “These two men have been through a gruesome ordeal for over a thousand days. They have shown determination, grace and endurance in every moment, and they are a source of inspiration for all of us. “
The return of Meng, on the one hand, and of “the two Michaels”, as they were popularly known, on the other, puts an end to almost three years of behind-the-scenes negotiations between China, on the one hand, and the United States and Canada on the other. , in a case that has deteriorated relations between the two sides to levels that had not been recorded in decades.
The case had exploded on December 1, 2018, when Meng, daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was detained by Canadian authorities at the request of the United States, while making a stopover in the city of Vancouver on her way to Mexico. The Justice Department in Washington accused her of having tried to deceive the HSBC bank to allow Huawei to bypass the US sanctions against Tehran, and demanded that Ottawa be extradited.
Beijing was enraged by what it perceived as a politicized attack on one of its leading tech companies and a leader in the 5G arena, an especially painful attempt among many in the United States to prevent the rise of China. Just two days later, in retaliation, the two Canadians were arrested on suspicion of espionage. Kovrig, a former diplomat who at the time of his arrest was working for the NGO specialized in conflict resolution Crisis Group, was imprisoned in Beijing. Spavor, a businessman specializing in cultural exchanges with North Korea, was arrested at his home in Dandong, on the border between that country and China.
Spavor had been sentenced in August to eleven years in prison for spying and handing over state secrets to foreign forces. Kovrig had been tried in March but was still awaiting sentencing.
Canada and the United States have always described the arrests of the two Canadians as “arbitrary.” Chinese diplomats always declared, until the last moment, that the cases were not related to the arrest of Meng, held under house arrest in one of his mansions in Vancouver. On September 3, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing insisted that “the Meng Wanzhou incident and the Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig cases are totally different in nature… Isolated cases of Canadian citizens have been sensationalized and falsely accused to China from arbitrary detention ”.
The Gordian knot was undone when the US Department of Justice reached an agreement with Meng, whereby the executive was released in exchange for publicly acknowledging the commission of minor wrongdoing. The release of the CFO, and the two Canadians, represents an olive branch between Washington and Beijing. It opens, perhaps, the door to a certain reset in the relations between the two rivals, after a general deterioration in their ties during the four years of Donald Trump’s mandate and that had not improved after the arrival at the White House of Joe Biden.
The agreement, and its rapid outcome, was announced precisely on the day that Biden held a summit at the White House with members of the Quad, the informal security association made up of the US, Japan, Australia and India and that Beijing perceives as an alliance to limit its influence in the Indo-Pacific region. It also came a week after a defense pact between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom was announced that will include, among other things, the provision of nuclear submarines for Canberra. The pact, known as Aukus, will strengthen US influence in Asia-Pacific and has received harsh criticism from China, which sees it as a new hostile act.
The pact between the US prosecutor’s office and Meng will be in force until December 2022, and until then the United States will be able to reactivate the judicial process, if it deems it necessary. If by that date there has been no denunciation of the agreement, the case will be considered definitively closed. A few hours after the charges were dropped, Canadian judges formally ended the extradition process of the Chinese executive.
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