By Elton Gomes
Chinese telecom giant Huawei’s chief financial officer (CFO), Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada and could be extradited to the United States.
In a statement on Wednesday, Canada’s justice ministry said Meng was arrested in Vancouver on December 1.
“She is sought for extradition by the United States, and a bail hearing has been set for Friday.” The justice ministry said it was unable to provide further details due to a publication ban sought by Meng, according to an Al Jazeera report.
A Huawei spokesperson said Meng was detained by Canadian authorities on behalf of the United States when she was transferring flights in Canada.
“The company has been provided very little information regarding the charges and is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng,” Huawei said in a statement. The company said it complies with all laws and rules where it operates, including export controls and sanctions of the United Nations, the US, and European Union.
The US Justice Department refused to comment on the matter. Meng’s arrest comes after the Wall Street Journal reported, in April, that American authorities were investigating whether Huawei had violated sanctions on Iran.
Who is Meng Wanzhou?
Meng Wanzhou is also known as Sabrina Meng and Cathy Meng. Apart from her role as CFO, Meng serves as the deputy chairwoman of Huawei’s board. She’s the daughter of Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei.
Meng’s position as deputy chairwoman put her within striking distance of running the company. However, her father had previously stated that his successor would not come from his family.
What we know about her arrest?
The US Justice Department has not revealed why it has arrested Meng. However, it is important to note here that the Justice Department has been investigating Huawei, the world’s third-largest cellphone manufacturer, since at least 2016, on the suspicion that it has been violating American sanctions against Iran.
How has China responded?
China, on Thursday, urged Canada and the US to “clarify” the reason for Meng’s arrest, and demanded her release.
“We have made solemn representations to Canada and the US, demanding that both parties immediately clarify the reasons for the detention, and immediately release the detainee to protect the person’s legal rights,” foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang told reporters, as per an Al Jazeera report.
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa said Meng’s human rights were violated and demanded that she be freed. “The Chinese side firmly opposes and strongly protests over such kind of actions which seriously harmed the human rights of the victim,” the embassy said in a statement.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent Adrian Brown said that there was a notable difference in the tone of statements issued by China and Huawei. Brown said that the “language coming from the Chinese embassy in Ottawa is a lot more hostile” and alleged that “her human rights were being harmed”. Huawei’s statement, on the other hand, was a “rather mild statement,” Brown said, as per the Al Jazeera report.
Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, said Americans were “grateful” to Canadian authorities for arresting Meng.
“Sometimes Chinese aggression is explicitly state-sponsored and sometimes it’s laundered through many of Beijing’s so-called ‘private’ sector entities that are in bed with Xi’s communist party,” he said, CNN reported.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, claimed that Chinese telecommunications’ companies “represent a fundamental risk to American national security”. Van Hollen said, “We need a comprehensive plan to hold the Chinese and their state-sponsored entities accountable for gross violations of the law and threats to our security,” as per the CNN report.
The Pentagon, in May, ordered stores on American military bases to stop selling smartphones made by Huawei and its Chinese rival ZTE. Earlier, in February, top officials from the CIA, NSA, FBI, and the Defense Intelligence Agency told a Senate committee that Huawei and ZTE’s smartphones posed a security threat to American customers.
Is Huawei being made a target?
Under Ren Zhengfei’s leadership, Huawei has become one of the biggest telecommunications’ companies in the world. But its expansion into the rest of the world has come under intense scrutiny.
Some Western governments fear Beijing will gain access to 5G mobile and other communications networks through Huawei, and the company will be able to expand China’s spying ability.
Furthermore, the Trump administration has urged US allies to stop using Huawei telecommunications equipment as the Chinese company could pose a security threat, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.
Over the last couple of years, Huawei has reportedly found ways to avoid sanctions imposed on North Korea and Iran, and has provided the countries with telecom equipment that can potentially be used for extensive spying on populations.
However, the company has faced significant criticism for its growing influence on global communications in the recent and coming years. The Chinese company will provide technology for 5G wireless internet across the world.
Ahead of the proposed 5G rollout, several countries have warned against using Chinese hardware due to security concerns. Such concerns arise from the Chinese government’s use of Huawei’s products to allegedly spy on people around the world.
Huawei has denied all allegations that it might be involved in spying activities to collect intelligence for the Chinese government. Till date, US, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK have officially said they will not allow Huawei to take part in the 5G trials.
How will US-China relations be affected?
Despite Meng’s arrest, Chinese officials seem confident that trade talks will not be affected. On Thursday, China’s Commerce Ministry said that it is confident that US President Donald Trump and and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will be able to reach an agreement. However, it seems that Chinese officials are likely to question whether the US is negotiating in good faith.
The Trump administration has come under fire since it went ahead with the arrest despite being fully aware of the repercussions on US-China talks. Meng’s arrest happened at about the same time that Trump dined with Xi in Buenos Aires on December 1 to discuss the trade war between the countries.
White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, who sat at the table with Trump and Xi, knew in advance of the American request to Canadian authorities to arrest Meng.
“We’ve had enormous concern for years about … the practice of Chinese firms to use stolen American intellectual property to engage in forced technology transfers and to be used really as arms of the Chinese government’s objectives in terms of information technology in particular,” Bolton told National Public Radio in an interview with Steve Inskeep.
The volatility shed a spotlight on Trump’s ability to deliver on his promises with China. It also exposed a clash between his policy goals in China and his efforts to crack down on telecom companies and other actors.
The issue seems to have metamorphosed into a race for technological dominance after Chinese media said that the arrest is part of American efforts to restrict Huawei’s attempts to launch 5G. State-run tabloid Global Times said: “Obviously Washington is resorting to a despicable rogue’s approach as it cannot stop Huawei’s 5G advance in the market.”
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius.