Date
22 April 2019
Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is facing charges in the US, may have become a bargaining chip as Washington seeks to extract trade-related concessions from Beijing. Photo: AFP
Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is facing charges in the US, may have become a bargaining chip as Washington seeks to extract trade-related concessions from Beijing. Photo: AFP

Meng becomes a pawn in US-China trade talks

Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer and deputy chairwoman of Huawei Technologies, is awaiting a hearing in a Canadian court following an extradition request from the United States. The Chinese telecoms executive in now out on bail in Vancouver after being arrested earlier this month. 

Meanwhile, in China, a former Canadian diplomat, Michael Kovrig, has been detained by Chinese authorities.

There is widespread speculation among the international community that the arrest of Kovrig could have been part of Beijing’s retaliation against Canada over Meng’s arrest and detention.

Also, we have had reports that a Canadian businessman named Michael Spavor, who has worked with North Korea, is being investigated by Beijing on suspicion of harming China’s state security.

Just as the world keeps guessing as to what would happen next in the Huawei-related saga, US President Donald Trump told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that he will intervene in the US Department of Justice probe against Meng if it would serve national security interests or help close a trade deal ever with China.

“If I think it’s good for the country, if I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,” Trump said during the interview.

The remarks make at least one thing this clear for us: the Meng case is linked to the bigger Sino-US trade war, and she may have become a pawn for the upcoming trade talks between Washington and Beijing.

So, by inference, we can probably also say that Kovrig is a bargaining chip for Beijing amid its ongoing great power rivalries with the West.

As far as Meng is concerned, her ordeal may come to an end as the US has to file for extradition by Jan. 8, 2019, according to the Canadian courts, or else she will be allowed to walk free after that.

This implies that Meng is now at the mercy of Washington and her fate is hanging in the balance.

On the surface, Trump seems to be trying to extend the olive branch to China, and Beijing appears to welcome it.

Nevertheless, in reality, things might not always be what they seem.

It is because Trump has been somewhat equivocal over how exactly he would intervene in Meng’s case, which raises the possibility that Meng could face even heavier criminal charges after the intervention.

Trump’s way of intervention pretty much depends on how he defines national security interests, or, to put it differently, depends on how his way of intervention is pegged to the Sino-US trade war, or even depends on the degree to which Beijing has to make concessions during the trade talks.

As the saga continues to snowball, all we can hope for is that the Meng case is resolved in the right direction. That will help prevent, among other things, a potential situation where China and the US might have to issue travel warnings for their peoples on the risks of visiting the other side.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 13

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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