The White House said on Monday that an agreement that allowed for the release of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou last week was a legal matter and does not represent a softening of U.S. concerns about Chinese behaviour.
“There is absolutely zero impact. No one should read it as an impact on our substantive policy,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
The agreement was reached on Friday about two weeks after Xi and Biden, on Sept. 9, had their first phone conversation in months.
The White House said that in the call Xi brought up Meng’s case and Biden brought up the matter of two Canadians, businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, who had been held in China for more than 1,000 days.
The fact that all three were freed hours apart suggested a carefully choreographed swap that would serve to relieve a source of tension.
But Psaki told reporters that “this was a legal decision made by the Department of Justice” to reach an agreement that led to Meng flying home.
She had been arrested at Vancouver International Airport on a U.S. warrant and indicted on bank and wire fraud charges for allegedly misleading HSBC in 2013 about the telecommunications equipment giant’s business dealings in Iran.
Within hours of the news of the deal, the two Canadians who were arrested shortly after Meng was taken into custody were released from Chinese jails and were on their way back to Canada. Beijing had denied that their arrests were linked.
“Our policy has not changed, our policy toward China,” Psaki said. “We are not seeking conflict. It is a relationship of competition and we are going to continue to hold the PRC to account for its unfair economic practices, its coercive actions around the world and its human rights abuses,” she said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China. “And we will continue to do that in partnership with our allies around the world.”