The waiting game: Will Huawei's Meng Wanzhou return home soon?

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou has been living in limbo since she was detained in Vancouver on the back of an extradition request from the US in relation to bank fraud charges. A Canadian judge ruled last week that part of Meng’s statement had an “air of reality” and that she was entitled to providing some additional evidence “to a limited extent”. Does this signal an upward momentum for Meng’s lawyers to overturn the US’s extradition request? Much would depend on seemingly extraneous factors such as the outcome of the US presidential race, says Beijing correspondent Yang Danxu.
Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou leaves her home to appear in Supreme Court for a hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on 29 October 2020. (Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg)
Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou leaves her home to appear in Supreme Court for a hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on 29 October 2020. (Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg)

New developments in Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case last week brought some relief to Huawei.

Hearings on Meng’s case continued at a Canadian court last week. On 28 October, the judge released a ruling stating that part of Meng’s statement had an “air of reality” and that Meng was entitled to providing some additional evidence “to a limited extent”. 

In response, Huawei Canada released a statement calling the ruling “a substantial victory” for Meng.   

In an interview with Zaobao a few days ago, Alykhan Velshi, Huawei Canada’s vice president of corporate affairs, emphasised repeatedly that he was “confident” that the Canadian court would rule in Meng’s favour.  

People wearing masks wait in line in front of Huawei’s flagship store for pre-sales of the newly launched Huawei Mate 40 mobile phone series in Shanghai on 23 October 2020. (STR/AFP)
People wearing masks wait in line in front of Huawei’s flagship store for pre-sales of the newly launched Huawei Mate 40 mobile phone series in Shanghai on 23 October 2020. (STR/AFP)

Why is Huawei so confident? And how does the Canadian judge’s latest ruling affect the case?  

Questioning detention procedures will be a tactic in Meng’s defence 

In December 2018, Meng was detained in Canada while on transit. The US accused her of committing fraud for misleading HSBC about Huawei’s dealings with an Iranian company, thus violating US sanctions against Iran. The US hence requested that Meng be arrested in Canada and extradited to the US.  

Meng’s lawyer made a request to halt the extradition procedure on the basis that Canada did not impose sanctions against Iran like the US, implying that the alleged breaches of US sanctions on Iran are not crimes in Canada. Thus, this failed the extradition requirement of “double criminality”.  

However, this reason was rebuffed in May this year, causing Meng’s legal team to lose the initial phase of the lawsuit.   

...although the judge does not believe that the argument used by Meng’s side is strong enough to immediately suspend the extradition case, Meng now has a fighting chance in her quest to overturn the request for extradition.

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou leaves the Supreme Court of British Columbia after appearing before a judge on 30 September 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. (David P. Ball/AFP)
Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou leaves the Supreme Court of British Columbia after appearing before a judge on 30 September 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. (David P. Ball/AFP)

As the extradition case enters the second phase, hearings will now focus on possible abuses of procedure committed by Canadian and US authorities during Meng’s detention and extradition request.  

Velshi told us that Meng’s legal team would present their arguments based on the following three claims: 1) political interference; 2) violation of the law and of Meng’s rights when she was arrested by Canadian authorities at Vancouver International Airport; and 3) omission of key evidence in the case when the US requested for Meng’s extradition.

...it is quite crucial that among all the material submitted by Meng to HSBC in 2013, the pages showing that she did not mislead HSBC were omitted in the US’s submissions to Canada. Meng’s lawyer’s can use this point to question the US’s motivations...

The latest ruling shows that the Canadian judge believes that the claims mentioned above have some veracity and thus she allowed Meng to provide additional evidence to challenge the US’s extradition request.   

Simply put, although the judge does not believe that the argument used by Meng’s side is strong enough to immediately suspend the extradition case, Meng now has a fighting chance in her quest to overturn the request for extradition.  

Canadian lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland notes that in extradition cases, it is rare to consider evidence provided by the subject.

He feels that it is quite crucial that among all the material submitted by Meng to HSBC in 2013, the pages showing that she did not mislead HSBC were omitted in the US’s submissions to Canada. Meng’s lawyer’s can use this point to question the US’s motivations, such as Meng being used as a bargaining chip for US trade talks with China.

The latest developments in the Meng Wanzhou case are also allowing some people in China to be more optimistic about it, thinking that there is a chance for the case to turn.

meng wanzhou
Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Co., leaves her home to attend Supreme Court for a hearing in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on 30 October 2020. (Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg)

Much depends on political factors

On paper, discretion over the case lies with the Canadian judge, and the new developments would indicate that Meng’s defence team did pull something back from the judgement back in May — however, this case has long gone beyond purely legal factors.

Will the new US administration use Huawei and Meng as chips to contain China? How will Canada balance its own role and national interests amid changing China-US relations?

The situation for Canada is this: if Meng is released, that would offend its ally America; if Meng is extradited, that would offend China. It would be harder to repair already tense China-Canada relations. Moreover, the fate of the two Canadian citizens arrested by China are still unknown. The latest verdict does not change the direction of the case, but does leave room for Meng to turn the tables, showing the meaning of “waiting for change”, that is, waiting for the relations between China, the US, and Canada to improve.

One key variable in that relationship is the result of the US presidential election. Meng was arrested at the peak of the China-US trade war, but the impact of the case in the China-US competition has weakened over time. What advantages to the US will the new US administration see in extraditing Meng? Will she still be of interest? Will the new US administration use Huawei and Meng as chips to contain China? How will Canada balance its own role and national interests amid changing China-US relations?

Following this hearing, the Canadian court will continue the trial next February on whether there was misuse of the legal process. The best-case scenario is that the judge dismisses the extradition case next year. If Meng loses, the case will go through rounds of appeals, which might drag for years. It is also possible that the Canadian minister of justice ends the case at some point during the process. In the end, the key to whether Meng’s case will turn lies in diplomacy and political tussling outside of the court.

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