The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s state propaganda machine cranked into high gear over the weekend with the return of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou following her release from house arrest in Vancouver.
Meng landed at Shenzhen’s Bao’an International Airport on Saturday to a red-carpet welcome, while the release of Canadian nationals Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were held days after Meng’s Dec. 1, 2018 arrest at the request of U.S. investigators, went largely unreported.
Meng was freed after attending court via video link from her home in Vancouver, where she has been under loose house arrest pending an extradition request from U.S. federal investigators, who have charged her with misleading HSBC Holdings about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.
Days later, Chinese authorities arrested eight Canadian nationals, including Kovrig and Spavor, and handed down a death sentence to convicted Canadian drug trafficker Robert Schellenberg, who had been serving a 15-year jail term.
The arrests and resentencing sparked criticism around the world that the moves were a form of “hostage diplomacy” on the part of Beijing, and raised concerns that Beijing might seize nationals of other countries with disputes with China.
Meng’s release came after she reached a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the U.S. Department of Justice on Sept. 24.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Saturday that Meng’s detention had been “political persecution” and the charges against her “fabricated,” despite Huawei’s admission that Meng had made untruthful claims regarding a bank transaction with Iran-based Skycom in violation of U.S. economic sanctions.
Meng arrived home to a hero’s welcome, with a chartered jet sent to pick up her on Saturday and state media lauding her release as a victory for its government’s diplomatic approach.
A Jiangxi-based independent commentator who gave only the surname Tian said most people in China seem to believe that the CCP had “rescued” Meng using its diplomatic clout.
“Chinese people mostly believe that the party and government rescued Meng Wanzhou and brought her home to China,” Tian said. “They are unlikely to be aware that she admitted to partial wrongdoing with regard to the charges brought against her by the U.S.”
“They only know that the U.S. didn’t convict her, and that she was released under … strong pressure from the Chinese government,” he said.
Social media frenzy
Current affairs commentator Bi Xin said the state propaganda machine is turning Meng’s release and homecoming into a nationalistic social media frenzy.
“They are constantly trying to create these sorts of cultural trends, whether through internal or external propaganda,” Bi said. “Their purpose is to instigate [nationalistic feeling] and to control … and to consolidate state power.”
The Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the CCP, hailed Meng’s release as a “landmark” for Chinese diplomacy, coming as it did amid an ongoing trade war with Washington.
“The high-profile case of Meng, which has become a political dilemma significantly affecting the global geopolitical landscape, has been settled through both legal channels and political wrestling,” the paper quoted “experts” as saying.
“The US and Canada have seen the best scenario with much compromise made by the Biden administration in resolving the matter,” it said.
‘Authorities will be worried’
A Zhejiang-based scholar surnamed Jiang the incident was highly unlikely to be over within the corridors of power in Beijing, however.
“The authorities will be worried about what information Meng Wanzhou may have divulged to the Canadians or to U.S. administration officials, or to the judicial authorities there,” Jiang said.
“They are definitely concerned about this, and we will have to wait and see what becomes of [Meng],” he said.
CCP mouthpiece the People’s Daily commented after Meng’s release that her detention was “a case of political persecution.”
“The U.S. accusation of so-called fraud against Meng Wanzhou is entirely fabricated,” the paper said in an op-ed article on Saturday.
“The United States and Canada have repeatedly abused their bilateral extradition treaties and used the law as an excuse to justify their persecution of Chinese citizens,” it said.
But assistant U.S. attorney David Kessler said that the prosecution had adopted Meng Wanzhou’s acknowledgment of some wrongdoing under the agreement in exchange for delaying her prosecution.
A copy of a “Statement of Facts” posted to Twitter by Canada-based South China Morning Post correspondent Ian Young showed that Meng admitted that her previous claim that Huawei had only a “business partnership” with another company, Iran-based Skycom, was untrue, as the latter is wholly owned by the former, and “Skycom employees are really Huawei employees.”
The statement relates to a case against HSBC brought by the DOJ under U.S. sanctions banning companies with a U.S. presence from doing business with individuals or organizations in Iran.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.