Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou freed as China claims political persecution

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BEIJING - Huawei senior executive Meng Wanzhou returned home to China on Saturday (Sept 25), after she was released in a deal involving China, Canada and the United States.

Shortly after US prosecutors announced that they would end a bank fraud case against her leading to the dropping of extradition proceedings against her in Canada, two Canadians detained in China were freed.

Ms Meng's release from house arrest in Vancouver drew a line under a case which has been a sore point in relations between Beijing and Washington for nearly three years.

But the deal opened up US President Joe Biden to criticism that his administration was capitulating to China and one of its top tech firms at the heart of a technological rivalry between the two countries.

Ms Meng left Vancouver on a government chartered Air China flight and minutes after it entered Chinese airspace, the foreign ministry in Beijing released a statement hitting out at the US, denouncing her detention as "arbitrary".

"The facts have already fully proven that this is a political persecution of Chinese citizens with the aim of suppressing China's high tech enterprises," a ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said in a statement. "The allegations of 'fraud' against Ms Meng were purely fabricated," Ms Hua added.

But Beijing was silent on the release of the two Canadians - former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, who were welcomed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they arrived in Calgary in western Canada.

"There is going to be time for reflections and analysis in the coming days and weeks," Mr Trudeau told reporters before the men's arrival. "But the fact of the matter is I know that Canadians will be incredibly happy to know that right now, this Friday night, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are on a plane and they're coming home."

Canadian businessman Michael Spavor (left) and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig (right). PHOTO: AFP

Ms Meng was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on a US warrant in December 2018, and indicted on bank and wire fraud charges for allegedly misleading banking giant HSBC in 2013 about Huawei's business dealings in Iran.

The Chinese telecommunications giant, which was founded by Ms Meng's father, Ren Zhengfei, has been at the centre of strategic competition between the world's two largest economies. The behemoth provides 5G telecommunications equipment for much of the world's developing economies but the US and its allies have raised questions about security, insisting that the firm offers the Chinese government a backdoor to data.

The firm and its founders have consistently denied such allegations but it has also resulted in several countries pulling Huawei products from their 5G superfast internet rollout plans.

On Saturday evening, hundreds of people waited for Ms Meng's flight to arrive at the Bao'an International Airport in Shenzhen, home to Huawei headquarters. Some held up banners while others sang patriotic songs including Me And My Motherland.

Supporters wait for the arrival of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the Bao'an International Airport in Shenzhen on Sept 25, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

State broadcaster CCTV had rolling coverage of Ms Meng's return, with the live feed showing dozens of Huawei employees, family and friends holding up Chinese flags and a banner to welcome Ms Meng on the tarmac, cheering as she disembarked clad in a red dress and black kitten heels.

"After more than a thousand days of hardship, I am finally back in the embrace of the motherland," she said as she choked up.

Calling herself an "ordinary Chinese citizen" who has gone through the ordeal of being stuck in a foreign land, Ms Meng especially thanked Chinese President Xi Jinping for his concern.

Across the city, screens flashed "welcome home" messages as buildings were lit up in colour. Hundreds of thousands more tuned into live streams of her return.

The Canadians were detained on charges of espionage just days after Ms Meng's arrest. During their time in detention the men had scant access to their lawyers.

Ms Meng, on the other hand, was monitored at all hours by private security at her own expense and confined to her luxury Vancouver home at night.

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