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CGTN: Tech, politics and ambition: How Huawei's Meng Wanzhou stepped into a perfect storm between China and U.S.

Sept. 26, 2021 - 19:41 By

Meng Wanzhou's release reveals Washington's attempt to prevent its stiff competition with Beijing from veering into a conflict, but it's far from being a reversal in bilateral tensions.

BEIJING, Sept. 26, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- "I'm finally back home," Huawei's chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou said when landing at the Shenzhen airport Saturday evening.

After nearly three years of being held under house arrest in Canada, Meng and her legal team reached a deal with the U.S. Justice Department on Friday which allowed her to return to China. The moment marked the end of a prolonged legal and political saga which took place amid rising tensions between Beijing and Washington.

Shortly after the deal was reached, Meng boarded a charter Air China flight headed to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen where Huawei is based.

Meng, 49, has not pleaded guilty to fraud charges. Under the agreement, she will not be prosecuted further in the U.S. and the extradition proceedings in Canada will be terminated, according to a statement released by William Taylor III, one of the lawyers representing Meng.

"Facts have already proven that this is a political persecution against a Chinese citizen and its aim is to suppress Chinese high-tech companies," said China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Saturday.

What happened three years ago?

On December 1, 2018, Canadian authorities arrested Meng at the request of the U.S. government which accused her of wire fraud and sought her extradition. The incident took place as the Trump administration adopted an aggressive approach in dealing with China on a variety of issues including trade and technology.

Four months before Meng's arrest, the U.S. government fired the opening salvo against Chinese high-tech companies by issuing a ban on the federal government use of products by Huawei and ZTE – two leading Chinese providers of telecom equipment, citing security concerns. The following year, Huawei was added to the U.S. Commerce Department's Entity List, which effectively banned American companies from doing business with the Chinese tech giant.

Why now?

Over the past three years, Meng's detention has been a thorny issue between Beijing and Washington. Tensions that were unfathomable years ago have taken an incendiary crescendo.

There are two factors that facilitated her release, according to Guo Changlin, a former senior diplomat at the Chinese Embassy in the U.S.

"U.S. President Joe Biden is looking to meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the upcoming G20 summit in person. [Also] Justin Trudeau has just been re-elected as Canadian prime minister [by a narrow margin] and is eager to fling off Meng's case, which after all has been a protracted bone of contention between China and Canada," Guo told CGTN during a phone interview.

Despite Washington's hardline China policy, Biden himself developed a close relationship with Xi when the two were vice presidents. Biden has been to China four times and the two met 11 times in person, noted Li Cheng, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution.

"My point was that when I came back from meeting with him [Xi] and traveling 17,000 miles with him … – that's how I got to know him so well," Biden remarked during a February town hall meeting.

"They have a personal friendship but how far Biden could go in light of nationwide anti-China sentiments remains to be seen," said Guo.

Li believes that Biden has to flex his muscles since the U.S. voter base is increasingly embracing the anti-China messaging. "He's not that confrontational himself," he added.

What does Meng's release mean to China-U.S. ties?

The release shows Washington's attempt to prevent the stiff competition from spiraling out of control, but it falls short of being a reversal in bilateral tensions, according to Guo. The charges against Huawei remain in place, and the tech giant is still on the U.S. blacklist.

The tech war is brewing. The U.S. pioneered the third industrial revolution and it's been at the very top of the pyramid over the decades. However, on the threshold of the 21st century, China and the U.S. have become fierce contenders in the fourth industrial revolution, which is dominated by chips and algorithms.

The White House listed China as "the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power" in its Interim National Security Strategic Guidance.

"The end of the engagement era could date back to 2010 when China became the world's second largest economy," said Guo. When China's GDP exceeded 60 percent of that of the U.S. in 2014, hostility further grew, with containment policies ranging from trade to human rights over the years.

Washington's attempt to contain Beijing in the high-tech realm predates Donald Trump's trade war and continues to this day. A hi-tech decoupling looks inevitable.

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