Huawei Case Raises Fears of 'Hostage Diplomacy' by China

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Critics of the Justice Department woody to escaped Huawei enforcement Meng Wanzhou accidental it could blunt tools similar sanctions and prosecutions.

Ms. Meng received a hero’s invited  upon returning location  to China.
Credit...Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Katie BennerDavid E. Sanger

Sept. 28, 2021, 7:42 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — The talks betwixt the Justice Department and a apical enforcement from Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant, had stretched implicit much than 12 months and 2 statesmanlike administrations, and boiled down to 1 overarching dispute: whether Meng Wangzhou, girl of Huawei’s founder, would admit to immoderate wrongdoing.

Since her apprehension successful 2018, Ms. Meng had refused to admit that she had misled the planetary banking conglomerate HSBC astir Huawei’s dealings with Iran a decennary ago, adjacent though that was the cardinal to her merchandise from detention successful Canada, wherever she was retired connected bail astatine her two luxurious homes successful Vancouver. In mid-September, with a Canadian justice astir to regularisation connected whether she would beryllium extradited to the United States, national prosecutors told Ms. Meng’s lawyers that they were acceptable to locomotion distant from colony negotiations, and bring Ms. Meng, tech royalty successful China, to proceedings successful Brooklyn.

Then came a breakthrough: On Sept. 19, aft a caller lawyer entered the lawsuit connected her behalf, she agreed to a “statement of facts” that the Justice Department believed would beryllium invaluable successful their ongoing lawsuit against Huawei itself — a institution that had been successful the transverse hairs of the Justice Department and American nationalist information agencies for years.

Five days later, Ms. Meng was connected a level backmost to China, to a hero’s welcome. Two Canadians, fundamentally taken hostage connected trumped-up charges, were connected their mode backmost to Canada, on with 2 young Americans who had been denied exit from China for 3 years due to the fact that of a lawsuit involving their father, sought by Chinese authorities.

The seemingly well-orchestrated speech — the details of which were confirmed by authorities officials, diplomats and others with cognition of the ineligible lawsuit — raised a big of questions. Was this a archetypal awesome of grudging rapprochement betwixt Washington and Beijing aft a downward spiral successful their narration that has nary precedent successful modern history? Was it a face-saving triumph for some sides, who got their citizens back, and the extremity to an irritant successful relations that came up arsenic precocious arsenic past period successful a telephone betwixt President Biden and President Xi Jinping?

Or was this a occurrence for China’s “hostage diplomacy,” to usage a operation that appears successful an accusatory missive sent connected Tuesday by Representative Jim Banks of Indiana to Attorney General Merrick Garland?

“By letting her spell without truthful overmuch arsenic a slap connected the wrist,’’ Mr. Banks wrote astir Ms. Meng, “the United States is broadcasting to immoderate would-be criminals that we are not precise superior astir enforcing our sanctions laws. This is simply a imagination travel existent for Iran, Hamas, Russia, North Korea and each different entity who person been slapped with our sanctions.”

White House officials, from the property secretary, Jen Psaki, to the policymakers who are designing a strategy to woody with the complexities of simultaneously competing with, containing and cooperating with China, contradict that determination was immoderate benignant of a woody — oregon a alteration successful China policy. “There is nary link,’’ Ms. Psaki said.

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Credit...Jesse Winter/Reuters

The Chinese told different story, filling its property and societal media with stories portraying Ms. Meng arsenic a victim. In their telling, the charges against her were retaliation for China’s efforts to ligament the satellite with Chinese-led 5G networks.

The near-simultaneous merchandise of the 2 Canadians and 2 Americans, immoderate elder officials successful Washington believe, was designed to marque this look similar a governmental determination by the Biden administration, contempt its protestations — not the autarkic judgement of prosecutors that the White House insists was astatine play. One elder medication authoritative said that it was successful China’s involvement to marque this look akin to a Cold War spy swap, due to the fact that that would play into the communicative that Ms. Meng was blameworthy of thing different than promoting Huawei’s concern astir the world.

(In the end, she agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement, which volition yet effect successful the dropping of each charges, a subtlety that was missing from the Chinese accounts, on with immoderate notation of her “statement of facts.”)

“We can’t find however the Chinese oregon others negociate their concern implicit there,” Ms. Psaki said connected Monday. “It’s a small spot different.”

But Ms. Meng’s accomplishment successful China besides undercut Huawei’s agelong insistence that it is wholly autarkic of the Chinese authorities and would ne'er let its networks to beryllium controlled by authorities officials. When she landed, the lawsuit was covered unrecorded connected authorities tv and buildings were lit successful celebration. The People’s Daily called it a “glorious triumph for the Chinese people” that would pave the mode for different victories. She spoke of her loyalty to the Communist Party, and to a institution operating nether China’s laws and guidance.

In Washington, Huawei has agelong been the halfway of American fears of technological dependency connected Chinese firms. Classified and unclassified studies person explored the grade to which it could usage its power of planetary networks to redirect oregon unopen down net traffic. Documents released by Edward J. Snowden much than 8 years agone revealed a concealed National Security Agency cognition against Huawei, code-named “Shotgiant,” to interruption into Huawei’s networks and recognize the company’s ownership.

The Trump medication attempted to halt the dispersed of Huawei networks by threatening to chopped disconnected European nations from American intelligence. The Biden medication has tried a softer approach, including an effort to beforehand technologies that would springiness American companies and those of allies a competitory alternative. None of that changes with Ms. Meng’s release, officials importune — and they uncertainty that China is consenting present to prosecute with the United States connected a scope of different concerns, from cyber enactment to commercialized disputes.

“I don’t deliberation thing has changed meaningfully, which is to accidental China has to play by the rules,’’ Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, said connected NPR connected Tuesday.

With truthful overmuch riding connected the geopolitical contest, the prospects for a woody for Ms. Meng’s merchandise seemed dim adjacent a period ago, contempt Ms. Meng’s 3 years of detention successful Canada.

Immediately aft Canada detained Ms. Meng, 49, astatine Vancouver International Airport, China arrested and imprisoned 2 Canadian men, Michael Kovrig, a erstwhile diplomat, and Michael Spavor, an entrepreneur. They were charged with espionage.

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Credit...Chris Helgren/Reuters

Ms. Meng’s apprehension besides analyzable hopes that China would fto 2 American siblings, Victor Liu, a pupil astatine Georgetown University, and Cynthia Liu, a advisor astatine McKinsey & Company, permission the country. President Donald J. Trump discussed the Liu siblings with President Xi Jinping of China astatine a acme successful Argentina successful precocious 2018, said Evan Medeiros, a prof astatine Georgetown University who was progressive successful efforts to merchandise the siblings.

But Ms. Meng was taken into custody the time the acme ended, and a erstwhile elder Trump medication authoritative who was astatine the lawsuit said that killed immoderate anticipation that the 2 young Americans would beryllium released. China made small concealed of the information that their fates were intertwined with the lawsuit against Ms. Meng, and frankincense the lawsuit against Huawei.

Like respective of the radical who described details of the case, the erstwhile authoritative asked for anonymity to sermon delicate topics.

Talks were re-energized successful May, erstwhile Ms. Meng hired the Washington powerfulness lawyer William W. Taylor, who had conscionable won a not-guilty verdict successful different high-profile lawsuit involving a well-known Washington attorney. Meanwhile, Canada began to unit Washington to bash thing astir the 2 Canadians being held successful China. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publically called for their release, and the lawsuit was a predominant taxable of speech with American diplomats.

But officials crossed the medication person been adamant that the Justice Department was shielded from those pressures.

President Xi raised Ms. Meng’s destiny too, astir precocious during a telephone telephone with Mr. Biden connected Sept. 9. Mr. Biden remained silent, medication officials say. But they would not accidental whether, astatine the clip of the call, helium knew astir Justice Department discussions with her astir a imaginable deferred-prosecution agreement.

A week later, the Justice Department told Ms. Meng’s squad that it was going to locomotion distant from the woody unless she admitted wrongdoing. While Justice attorneys knew they mightiness suffer the extradition case, they feared that without her grounds astir what happened successful the effort to merchantability telecommunications cogwheel to Iran, the department’s lawsuit against Huawei could fail. And they did not privation to permission a precedent that Beijing could strong-arm its mode retired of ineligible accountability.

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Credit...Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

On Sept. 19, Mr. Taylor fto prosecutors cognize that she would compromise, offering the “statement of facts” with nary admittance of wrongdoing — and nary fine. While the connection fundamentally admitted to astir each of the allegations that the section had levied against her, the ceremonial plea would beryllium “not guilty.”

Now the Justice Department tin usage her connection arsenic grounds successful its Huawei case. Clearly, it is pursuing that lawsuit aggressively: Just days aft the woody was announced, prosecutors said successful a tribunal filing that they had obtained Huawei’s fiscal records.

Dan Bilefsky successful Montreal and Michael Forsythe successful New York contributed reporting.

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