Minitrue: Welcome Home, Meng Wanzhou; Water Down Coverage of Deal With U.S. Justice Department

The following censorship instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.

Notice: please display the following slogan on the Ping An International Financial Center, Kingkey Finance Tower, Di Wang Tower, China Resources Tower, One Shenzhen Bay, and Hon Kwok City Center: “Welcome Home, Meng Wanzhou!” Requirements: suspend display of other publicity/promotional content, and use warm colors onscreen, such as white characters on a red backdrop. (September 25, 2021) [Chinese]

If reporting on circumstances related to the deferred prosecution agreement reached between Meng Wanzhou and the U.S. Department of Justice, do so objectively, accurately, and in strict accordance with authoritative information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Give the matter generally low-key and watered-down treatment; do not extrapolate, interpret, or comment without prior arrangement; and do not cite information from foreign sources. Please pay attention to confidentiality, and strictly control the scope of information. (September 25, 2021) [Chinese]

The above directives coordinate celebration and coverage of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou’s return to China last Friday, following nearly three years entangled in extradition proceedings in Canada. Meng, also the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was sought for prosecution in the U.S. over charges involving fraud and sanctions violation, but the extradition request was dropped in a deferred prosecution agreement after Meng admitted wrongdoing, while stopping short of a guilty plea.

Almost immediately, Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig also returned from detention in China, appearing to vindicate longstanding suspicion that they had been held to apply pressure on Canada for Meng’s release. Chinese authorities have said that they were granted medical parole, and that the timing was coincidental. Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison for espionage last month, while Kovrig was awaiting sentence on similar charges. Subsequently, a travel ban was also lifted on American siblings Victor and Cynthia Liu, who had been prevented from leaving China for more than three years.

Meng’s homecoming became the focus of nationwide celebrations. Before being escorted to quarantine—which The Economist’s Simon Rabinovitch noted would be “the strictest confinement she has faced over the past 1,000-plus days”—Meng gave an effusive speech at the airport, thanking the Chinese leadership for securing her release. Victor Mair posted a lightly edited Google Translation of her comments at Language Log, commenting that “the text is not worthy of the labor that would be required to make a sensible, polished translation into English. Indeed, leaving the translation somewhat fractured gives a fair idea of the shoddy, maudlin quality of the original.”

Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, our motherland is moving towards prosperity. Without a strong motherland, there would be no freedom as I have today. […] Thank you, my dear motherland, and the party and government. It is the brilliant Chinese red that ignites the fire of faith in my heart, illuminates the darkest moments of my life, and leads me on the long journey home. [Source]

State media enthusiastically struck up a similar refrain. South China Morning Post’s Zhou Xin and Yujie Xue reported on the official framing of Meng’s return, and on the celebrations that erupted as “the live broadcast of her arrival was watched by nearly 100 million viewers at its peak.”

Xinhua confirmed on Saturday morning that her return was a result of “unremitting efforts of the Chinese government”. People’s Daily, mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, said in an editorial Meng’s release was “a major victory of the Chinese people” and showed “no power can stop China’s advancing steps”.

Throughout the day, internet users were busy tracking her flight CCA552, chartered by the central government, as it made its way across the Arctic Ocean, many describing her as the country’s heroine.

At the arrival hall in Shenzhen Baoan International Airport, thousands of people had gathered to welcome her home. Some held banners, flowers and Chinese national flags. Others wore red masks with the national flag printed on them.

Banners displayed the message “Welcome home Ms Meng Wanzhou” while chants of “Meng Wanzhou, you’re a heroine. We love you” could also be heard. Airport security staff were on hand to keep order. [Source]

(See more from and about Wuheqilin via CDT.)

The story occupied nine of the top ten spots on Weibo’s list of trending hashtags. At Hong Kong Free Press, Selena Cheng described the tone of online commentary, noting some dissent from the dominant tone of pride and celebration:

“Remember, the reason Ms. Meng can return is not because the US and Canada were kind, it’s because our motherland is strong!” one Weibo user wrote in response to the broadcaster’s article.

[…] However there were also commentators who were critical that China rolled out the welcome mat for a tech executive they sarcastically dubbed “Huawei’s eldest princess.”

“Since when was she detained? She lived well in her own house,” one wrote.

“A strong China can rescue the so-called princess, but couldn’t care less about supplying electricity to 90 million citizens in the north-eastern provinces,” said another, referring to a widespread power outage on Sunday and subsequent restrictions placed on the use of electricity in the region. [Source]

Cheng noted that, by contrast, the two Michaels’ return home was “treated with relative silence in the Chinese media.” At The Washington Post, Lily Kuo highlighted some online discontent over the apparent trade:

“The discussion online is that Meng was innocent, but the facts of Kovrig and Spavor’s crimes are irrefutable. The U.S. side releasing Meng was justified, but was China forced into this compromise?” one user wrote on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.

[… C]omments asking for more details on their release were quickly scrubbed from discussion forums. “There is no basis for China’s release of the Michaels. This is not justice in the least,” read one post that has since been deleted. “People keep saying Meng’s case is a great victory for China … but it’s been three years and we had to trade two Canadian spies,” another user wrote on Weibo.

Liu Xiaoyuan, a rights lawyer, wrote in a WeChat post viewed more than 100,000 times before it was taken down that China ought to explain the release of the Canadians. “Now that the two whose cases were ‘iron clad’ have been released, shouldn’t a legal explanation be given?” Liu wrote. [Source]

The brazenness of the timing grated elsewhere as well, as the Toronto Star’s Ben Cohen reported:

“What’s bizarre about it is that their conditions for release match Meng’s exactly, almost word for word,” said Stephanie Carvin, associate professor of international relations at Carleton University.

[…] “It’s blatantly obvious either Beijing didn’t anticipate the extent to which the entire international community would recognize this as a hostage swap or they’re just very comfortable issuing very thin denials,” said Carvin. “It feels like international gaslighting.”

[…] “You always have to assume the primary audience for this material is domestic,” she said. “If you recall, during Meng’s trial they had fake protestors show up holding up signs saying, ‘Free Meng.’ That was for the Chinese audience. Everyone in the West saw through that in about six seconds.”[Source]

Foreign Policy’s James Palmer commented that “Many China analysts, myself included, believed there would be a delay of weeks or months between Meng’s release and the return of the Canadians, to give Beijing plausible deniability. The absence of that shows how little China cares about its reputation. It would rather emphasize its power.”

As the second directive highlights, Chinese authorities were keen to downplay or dismiss the admission of wrongdoing that had secured Meng’s return. The Financial Times reported that related searches had been blocked on Weibo, quoting “a person familiar with the situation” as explaining that “We need to portray this as a complete success for China.” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs insisted in a statement that “Facts have long proved that this is a political persecution against a Chinese citizen with the aim to oppress China’s high-tech companies,” and that “the ‘fraud’ accusations against Ms. Meng are nothing but fabrication.” A statement from the U.S. Department of Justice, though, pointed out that the case against Huawei remains underway, and suggested that Meng’s statements had bolstered it:

“In entering into the deferred prosecution agreement, Meng has taken responsibility for her principal role in perpetrating a scheme to defraud a global financial institution,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Nicole Boeckmann for the Eastern District of New York. “Her admissions in the statement of facts confirm that, while acting as the Chief Financial Officer for Huawei, Meng made multiple material misrepresentations to a senior executive of a financial institution regarding Huawei’s business operations in Iran in an effort to preserve Huawei’s banking relationship with the financial institution. The truth about Huawei’s business in Iran, which Meng concealed, would have been important to the financial institution’s decision to continue its banking relationship with Huawei. Meng’s admissions confirm the crux of the government’s allegations in the prosecution of this financial fraud — that Meng and her fellow Huawei employees engaged in a concerted effort to deceive global financial institutions, the U.S. government and the public about Huawei’s activities in Iran.”

[…] “Financial institutions are our first line of defense in maintaining the safety and security of the U.S. financial system,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “That is why the law requires that companies who avail themselves of the U.S. financial system provide financial institutions with truthful information about their business operations. Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei Technologies, admitted today that she failed to tell the truth about Huawei’s operations in Iran, and as a result the financial institution continued to do business with Huawei in violation of U.S. law. Our prosecution team continues to prepare for trial against Huawei, and we look forward to proving our case against the company in court.” [Source]

Several accounts have described the behind-the-scenes developments that had helped break the three-year deadlock. A team from the Wall Street Journal wrote that, rather than the “unremitting efforts of the Chinese government” credited by state media, the decisive shift had come from Meng herself. Although her final admission fell short of the guilty plea the U.S. Department of Justice had earlier pushed for, the WSJ account suggested that the department had made little concession by comparison:

Around May, the talks gained momentum after Ms. Meng hired a new lawyer, William Taylor, who was introduced to the prosecution team as someone who had been brought on specifically to see if he could reach a resolution.

Justice Department officials offered the same bottom line as they had before; that Ms. Meng admit to what they said she did. They also made clear they were willing to resolve Ms. Meng’s case separately from that against the company.

[…] The talks reached a breakthrough on Sunday, Sept. 19, when Mr. Taylor conveyed for the first time that Ms. Meng was willing to admit to wrongdoing, and sent a draft of what she was prepared to acknowledge. That draft served as the basis for the statement of facts attached to her deferred prosecution agreement on Friday.

[…] Prosecutors have their own motives for wanting to strike a deal, Justice Department officials said. They calculated that Ms. Meng could continue appeals related to her extradition that could prolong that fight for several years. Under Canadian law, government officials also could ultimately decide to end the process.

If Ms. Meng had been convicted by a U.S. jury or pleaded guilty, the officials said, prosecutors would have ended up with essentially the same statement of facts she agreed to. Some defendants who faced similar wire and bank fraud charges have also faced little prison time, and Justice Department officials said prosecutors felt the deal was 85% of what they could have ultimately hoped for if she arrived in Brooklyn. [Source]

This rationale might lend credence to various parties’ claims that no prisoner exchange agreement lay behind the unexpectedly rapid sequence of events—claims which have met widespread skepticism. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that although President Biden had raised the Michaels’ cases on a call with Xi earlier this month, and that Xi had also raised Meng’s, “no negotiation” had occurred, and the Justice Department had acted independently. Citing “three sources with direct knowledge of the talks with China, Huawei and Ms. Meng’s lawyers,” The Globe and Mail’s Robert Fife reported that Biden had insisted that the extradition case against Meng could not be dropped unless the Michaels were released at the same time, while Xi demanded that the Michaels could only be freed if Meng did not have to admit guilt.

Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. Kirsten Hillman endorsed Psaki’s claim on CTV on Sunday, stating that as Meng’s case approached its resolution, Beijing simply decided “that it was no longer in its interest to continue holding [Kovrig and Spavor], and so they started the process in talking to our officials in Beijing about making arrangements to have the Michaels leave.” She further insisted “that Canada didn’t ever back down from our commitment to international law. We never succumbed to the pressure that, unfortunately, the two Michaels were the victims of.”

The Economist summed up the lingering questions over how last weekend’s resolution had been achieved, echoing the Wall Street Journal’s suggestion that Meng was the one who appeared to have given ground.

Much remains unclear about the terms of the exchange—in particular how much was said explicitly by representatives of the three countries in negotiations and how much was only winked at. From the outset both American and Canadian officials have been bedevilled by the problem of not wanting to appear to negotiate for the release of hostages. Some China hawks in America and Canada will accuse President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of rewarding China’s tactics, and of going soft by agreeing to let Ms Meng go free. The resolution comes just days after Mr Trudeau narrowly secured victory in parliamentary elections. He had rejected entreaties to order Ms Meng released much earlier, on the reasoning that to subvert the judicial process would show China how easily it could gain leverage over Canada. As for America, Donald Trump’s Justice Department had entered similar negotiations with Ms Meng in 2020, and the published terms of the agreed plea—most crucially, that she must admit wrongdoing—appear much the same as what prosecutors were believed to be offering under Mr Trump late last year.

[…] But the Communist Party’s bullying has come at a diplomatic and strategic cost. In February, Canada led a coalition of nearly 60 countries in denouncing arbitrary state detentions of citizens—an obvious shot at China, though it was not explicitly named in the joint declaration. It was another example of countries coalescing around various concerns about China’s behaviour in recent years under Mr Xi. The recent AUKUS security agreement between Australia, Britain and America is the latest, most dramatic example. Governments around the world are becoming much more wary of China. The taking of the two Michaels—and the eventual confirmation that they were indeed hostages to be exchanged— will be viewed in history as one of the reasons why. [Source]

Whether or not the Michaels’ detentions ultimately brought about Meng’s release, fears that China would be encouraged to adopt similar tactics in the future have dominated analysis of the case’s implications. CNN’s Stephen Collinson described the outcome as “a troubling sign of a new era of superpower confrontation,” while at The New York Times, Chris Buckley and Katie Benner also reported concern over future hostage diplomacy:

The exchange resolves one of the festering disputes that have brought tensions between Washington and Beijing to their worst point in decades. But it will likely do little to resolve deeper issues including human rights, a sweeping clampdown in Hong Kong, cyberespionage, China’s threats to use force against Taiwan, and fears in Beijing that the United States will never accept China’s rise.

The swiftness of the apparent deal also stands as a warning to leaders in other countries that the Chinese government can be boldly transactional with foreign nationals, said Donald C. Clarke, a law professor specializing in China at George Washington University Law School.

“They’re not even making a pretense of a pretense that this was anything but a straight hostage situation,” he said of the two Canadians, who stood trial on spying charges. Mr. Spavor was sentenced last month to 11 years in prison, and Mr. Kovrig was waiting for a verdict in his case after trial in March.

“In a sense, China has strengthened its bargaining position in future negotiations like this,” Professor Clarke said. “They’re saying, if you give them what they want, they will deliver as agreed.”

[…] To say that the apparent swap signals a thaw in relations would be premature at best, experts said. [Source]

The Wall Street Journal’s James T. Areddy and Andrew Restuccia similarly reported “no sign of a thaw over major disputes, such as China’s claims involving Taiwan or the South China Sea, that some fear risk putting the countries on a path toward military conflict.” At the same time, they cited the resolution of Meng’s and the Michaels’ cases as the latest in a series of “actions suggesting a willingness on both sides to grab at green shoots” in areas such as climate cooperation, trade, and student visas.

In the Biden administration’s view, most of Beijing’s actions have been incremental and reflect pressures it faces rather than a fresh spirit of cooperation, according to the person familiar with the administration’s internal discussions on China. The relationship is hugely complex and for every positive development, there are many more thorny issues that have yet to be resolved, the person said.

[…] Some watchers still said the breakthrough may signal cooler heads prevailing. “The immediate release of the Michaels gives me greater hope that this is merely the first step in joint efforts to get better relations back on a somewhat smoother, at least less dangerous, track,” said Jerome Cohen, a New York lawyer who has worked on several high-profile legal cases involving the two countries. [Source]

In a 2019 interview with Time Magazine, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei described the company’s situation in the crossfire of Sino-U.S. rivalry as “like a small tomato stuck between the two countries.” Canada may now have some relief from a similar predicament. As Reuters’ Denny Thomas reported, Ottawa faces decisions on a number of fronts including Huawei’s inclusion in 5G deployment, cooperation between Canadian and Chinese universities, and its broader stance toward China: an approach that Foreign Minister Marc Garneau, insisting that “our eyes are wide open,” has characterized as “coexist, compete, cooperate, and challenge.” And tensions over the Meng affair remain inflamed, as illustrated by a “heated” exchange at the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, reported by CNN’s Richard Roth, Caitlin Hu, and Ben Westcott:

“Canada observed the rule of law, and two Canadian citizens paid a heavy price for this commitment … We continue to oppose the way these two fine people were treated,” [Garneau] said.

[…] Later in the evening, a representative from China’s delegation to the UN General Assembly exercised the country’s right of reply, accusing the United States and Canada of keeping Meng under house arrest arbitrarily and without “legal reasons.”

[…] “We hope that Canada can face up to the facts squarely, correct their mistakes and draw lessons from what happened so that they do not make further mistakes,” Liu warned.

Canada responded, with a delegation representative saying Meng had been treated with judicial independence and rule of law, and noting “she spoke outside the Vancouver courthouse to thank the court.”

The Canadian citizens who were held in China “did not benefit from a similar degree of transparency, respect, due process or judicial independence,” the Canadian representative said.

“And we will continue to speak out against arbitrary detention in state-to-state relations, thank you.”

Liu responded one more time, saying “We cannot accept what he said.”

“Facts cannot be denied, and laws cannot be affronted. We believe that history will have a final judgment,” he added. [Source]

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.


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