Lawyer Casts Huawei Exec as ‘Bargaining Chip’ in US-China Trade War

Meng Wanzhou’s lawyer had a lot to say about the words of then-President Donald Trump, and current President Joe Biden didn’t escape unscathed either.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is out on bail and remains under partial house arrest after she was detained in 2018 at the behest of American authorities, leaves her home in Vancouver, British Columbia, as she heads to B.C. Supreme Court for a case management hearing. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (CN) — Former President Donald Trump’s tacit admission that the arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was a tactical move in his trade war with China “co-opted the extradition process” in bad faith, a Canadian judge heard Wednesday.

In opening submissions on the first branch of Meng’s abuse of process claims against her extradition to the United States, defense lawyer Richard Peck zeroed-in on comments made by Trump and members of his administration after Meng’s arrest. Peck told B.C. Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes that Trump’s comments had the “cumulative” effect of poisoning the integrity and fairness of the extradition process.

In the days following Meng’s arrest in December 2018, Peck noted, Trump said he “would certainly intervene” in Meng’s case if it was necessary for U.S. national security.

“With that utterance, Ms. Meng became a bargaining chip, a pawn in this economic contest between these two superpowers,” Peck said. “Those words amount to the opening salvo in this trade war.”

Meng, the daughter of billionaire Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, faces extradition from Canada to the United States on fraud charges. The U.S. Department of Justice has accused Meng of deceiving an HSBC executive regarding Huawei’s dealings in Iran involving a subsidiary which — if true — would be a violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Peck told the court that Trump’s willingness to intervene in an extradition case as the most powerful political figure in the world reduced “Ms. Meng from a human being to a chattel.” He also said this is likely the first time the head of a requesting state has commented on the plight of an extradition target, indicating a “a subjugation of the rule of law to other interests.”

“At that point you have Ms. Meng and Huawei in tandem, subject to the president’s whim or will in respect of trade,” Peck said.

Meng’s arrest, he said, was part of the United States’ “concerted and continuing effort” to debilitate, if not destroy Huawei in a “campaign they, in part, purport to justify under the rubric of national security.”

“Huawei is seen as a threat by the U.S.,” Peck said, likening the modern race for technological dominance in telecommunications to a 21st-century version of the Cold War arms race with the Soviet Union. “This is not hyperbole.”

Peck also highlighted comments made by former U.S. Attorney General William Barr in a “bellicose” speech in February 2020, where he said China plans to replace U.S. as the world’s “dominant technological superpower” in an unprecedented challenge of “America’s technological prowess.”

And he noted bipartisan support of the fight against China’s challenge to American hegemony. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a Democrat — has “warned nations against doing business with Huawei” and cautioned other nations about emerging 5G networks “dominated” by an autocratic government that doesn’t share American values, Peck said.

“This campaign is bipartisan and continues in full vigor today,” Peck said — though he stressed he wasn’t making a judgment about U.S. foreign policy.

He also noted President Joe Biden has not effectively condemned Trump’s position on Meng’s case and has indicated a willingness to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so. Biden, Peck said, has publicly stated China is a threat and that its retaliatory detention of two Canadian aid workers — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — remains a priority in the U.S.-Canada relationship. Peck said Biden’s attempt to blunt or soften America’s position in the wake of Trump’s comments are an eleventh-hour attempt to restore the integrity of the process, but “the harm has been done.”

“The proposition that the current president has somehow repudiated the remarks of the previous president,” Peck said, “we say that is not so.”

Meanwhile, in documents filed by the Attorney General of Canada, prosecutors claim the defense position is moot since Trump is no longer in office.

“The facts on which it is based — statements by a president no longer in office, about a possible intervention in this case that never occurred, purportedly to achieve a trade deal that has long since been successfully negotiated — have no past, present or prospective impact on these proceedings,” the attorney general’s reply states. “Even if not moot, the application must fail. The statements in question from the former president do not amount to misconduct standing alone. But they do not stand alone: they are inconsistent with statements made by other knowledgeable government officials such as the acting attorney general, the secretary of state and the lead negotiator on U.S. trade talks with China.

“The applicant has filed a highly selective factual record, and seeks to compensate for its weakness through hyperbolic characterization of the supposed impacts of the statements.”

After the lunch break, Meng’s lawyer Mona Duckett outlined concerns about the overall fairness of the proceedings, telling the court that an “aura” or “cloud” looms over Meng’s fate as its tied to “some other parallel process over which she has zero control but potential impact.”

“Ms. Meng is aware that on another plane, behind the curtain of diplomacy and trade negotiations, there are discussions affecting her fate. So her fate, and not just her fate as a human being, her fate in connection with this very case, is being discussed,” Duckett said. “Ms. Meng maintains that she is an innocent person wrongly accused and her integrity has been very publicly challenged as a result of these proceedings.”

Prosecutor Robert Frater, however, told Justice Holmes that the defense is making “wild attempts” to wrongfully ask her to “ignore the presumption of good faith” of the United States. The defense, he said, is encouraging her to “infer the worst” from “vague” statements made by Trump and other “irrelevant actors” about Meng’s case.

National security concerns are an “entirely appropriate thing for a president to have on his mind,” he said.

Proceedings continue Thursday and are set to last through mid-May.

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