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Extradition Hearing For Huawei CFO Comes During U.S.-China Trade Talks

Mar 6, 2019
Originally published on March 6, 2019 8:33 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A standoff between the U.S. and China is playing out in Canada. This morning, a top executive from a Chinese tech giant will be in court there for an extradition hearing. Meng Wanzhou is chief financial officer of Huawei, one of the world's largest cellphone manufacturers and tech companies. She was arrested in December at the request of the U.S. as she was travelling through Canada. And now she is under house arrest in Vancouver, which is where NPR's Jackie Northam has been reporting this story. Good morning, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Can you just remind us who this woman is and what she has allegedly done here that's gotten the interest of the United States?

NORTHAM: Sure, yeah. Meng Wanzhou is the chief financial officer of Huawei, and she's also the daughter of the founder of that company. And the Trump administration alleges that Meng tried to skirt U.S. sanctions on Iran. And as you say, it requested Canada arrest her as she was passing through the airport here in Vancouver and extradite her to the U.S. Now, she's been held under house arrest for the past three months. She owns a couple of homes here in Vancouver. Last week, Canada said the U.S. had presented enough evidence for the extradition hearing to go ahead. And today is the start of that process of whether or not she will be extradited to the U.S.

GREENE: OK. So this is a moment where President Trump might want to make sure there's teeth behind sanctions when it comes to Iran. But it's also a moment where the relationship between the United States and China has been so fraught over trade. That has to be playing into all of this, right?

NORTHAM: Well, you're right. The U.S. and China are embroiled in a trade dispute. Both countries, though, say that this has nothing to do with the Huawei trial. But, you know, David, Huawei is a very powerful and influential Chinese company. And Beijing has strongly protested Meng's arrest. It's been seen as akin to arresting the second in command of a company like Apple. So it's huge. And China sees the move as political and that Meng is being used as a pawn by the U.S. in the trade dispute. And, David, that belief was likely confirmed when President Trump suggested that Meng's case could be included in the trade deal.

But there's more here. You know, Meng's case comes at a time when the U.S. has charged Huawei, the company, with trying to steal trade secrets from a company like T-Mobile. And the Trump administration has been pressuring allies not to use Huawei equipment, saying they'll be vulnerable to cyberattacks because of its close links to the Chinese government. So, you know, again, there's a lot more than just an extradition here going on here.

GREENE: Yeah, there's a lot at play here. Well, I mean, Canada has been brought into this because that's where she was when she was arrested. But it's so interesting. When you have an extradition question like this, I mean, the country where it's happening actually almost has to play some kind of role. I mean, what is the situation in Canada, and how are Canadians sort of taking in this story?

NORTHAM: Oh, you know, I've talked to a lot of Canadians about this over the past couple of months, and many people feel the country is being squeezed between the U.S. and China. You know, the Canadian government has to honor the extradition treaty with the U.S., but some people feel Canada is being used by the Trump administration to gain an upper hand with China. Others are angry at China. You know, shortly after Meng was detained, China arrested two Canadians, one of them a former diplomat. And they were recently charged with espionage.

Many people are angry that those two Canadians are living under harsh conditions in a Chinese prison while Meng is living under house arrest in one of her multi-million-dollar homes here in Vancouver, you know. And there's also a lot of supporters of Meng. Vancouver has a huge Chinese community, and many are expected to be at the courtroom today to show their support for her.

GREENE: Will a decision actually be made on her extradition today, or is this just one step?

NORTHAM: Oh, no. This is just the first step, believe me. And it could take months or even years for Meng to be extradited to the U.S.

GREENE: NPR's Jackie Northam reporting for us in Vancouver this morning. Thanks, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.