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Final Arguments Begin In The Extradition Process For Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou


Senior executive with the global telecommunications giant Huawei will appear in a Vancouver, Canada, courtroom today for the final phase of her extradition hearing. The U.S. asked Canada to extradite Meng Wanzhou so she can face criminal charges relating to violating American sanctions against Iran. Her case has set off an international dispute that shows no signs of abating. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: For well over two years, Meng Wanzhou has shuttled between one of her two multimillion-dollar homes in Vancouver to a downtown courtroom. The poised Huawei executive is surrounded by bodyguards and lawyers, her left ankle adorned with a bracelet monitoring her moves. Meng may be the central figure in a high-profile extradition hearing, but there's an international cast of characters swirling around her.

SCOTT KENNEDY: They've got the U.S. government, the Canadian government, Chinese authorities and Huawei all on the dance floor.

NORTHAM: Scott Kennedy is a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Meng's extradition process is about her lying to a bank about Huawei's dealings with Iran. But Kennedy says the case is about more than just fraud-related charges.

KENNEDY: It personalizes the geopolitical tensions between China and the West. Huawei is central to China's innovation, drive. And so it's very difficult to separate the company and its place in national security in U.S.-China relations from the specific case against her.

NORTHAM: The U.S. views Huawei as a national security threat and has already managed to hobble the company economically. Paul Triolo with the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, wonders why the U.S. continues with Meng's extradition.

PAUL TRIOLO: If the goal is to punish Huawei for its business practices or its role in 5G and government subsidies or whatever, dragging her back in chains to the United States does not seem to really be necessary here.

NORTHAM: Triolo says there could be room for compromise. As a goodwill gesture, China could release two Canadians it jailed shortly after Meng's arrest, something the U.S. has pushed China on. And Washington could revoke Meng's extradition order. But Triolo says neither side is willing to lose face.

TRIOLO: The problem is the U.S.-China relationship is in such a bad state now, you know. It's just - it's almost like a toxic relationship. There's no engagement at any level.

NORTHAM: Joshua Dratel is a New York-based criminal defense attorney with experience in national security cases and sanctions cases. He says one way to break the deadlock could be deferred prosecution.

JOSHUA DRATEL: Kind of a little bit like a consent agreement in a civil case, which is, you know, I didn't do it; I won't do it again. Maybe you pay a little money, but there's no charges. There's no criminal record. The case gets dismissed, and both sides walk away whole.

NORTHAM: But Scott Kennedy says there have been talks between Huawei and the Department of Justice and, early on, looked like there could have been a negotiated settlement. But Kennedy says Beijing and Huawei are very hesitant to approve any type of plea arrangement.

KENNEDY: So for the moment, it seems they are pushing really hard to see if they can get Ms. Meng released without making any type of concessions on their part. And that seems to be extremely unlikely.

NORTHAM: Kennedy says if the Canadian judge rules in favor of extradition, Meng's case will then go to the minister of justice, where he says there's potentially more room to consider not just the legal facts, but also the broader geopolitical context of the case.

Jackie Northam, NPR News.


Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.