Meng Wanzhou was released from legal detention in Canada after striking a deal with the US prosecutors over a bank fraud case
In what is being projected as a big victory for China's ruling Communist Party, Meng Wanzhou, the high-profile top executive of telecom giant Huawei who was detained in Canada for over three years, received a hero's welcome upon her arrival in Shenzhen on a special plane sent by the government on Saturday.
Meng, 49, deputy chair of the board of Huawei, its chief financial officer and the daughter of the company's founder Ren Zhengfei, credited the Communist Party of China (CPC) headed by President Xi Jinping for her release.
She was released from legal detention in Canada on Saturday after striking a deal with the US prosecutors over a bank fraud case that had kept her in legal limbo for nearly three years.
State television telecast her arrival live at Shenzhen airport on a special plane arranged by the government as officials, Huawei employees and health officials wearing Personal Protective Equipment suits greeted her.
After a brief speech hailing China, she left for a COVID
Just around the time her flight left Shenzhen, two Canadians former diplomat Michael Spavor Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, who were arrested in China in December 2018 in a tit-for-tat retaliation to Meng's arrest, were taken out the prison and flown to Canada which was termed by observes as akin to "hostage diplomacy".
The two Canadians were accused of harming China's national security.
China also stopped some key Canadian imports. Beijing consistently denied their arrests have anything to do with Meng's case.
Significantly, there is no official word about their release in China and their freedom was announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"About 12 minutes ago, the aircraft carrying Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor left the Chinese airspace - and they're on their way home," Trudeau said, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
The two were held shortly after Meng was arrested. Beijing detained Kovrig, a consultant, and Spavor, an analyst and former Canadian diplomat, and also changed the 15-year jail sentence imposed on Canadian drug smuggler Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to a death sentence.
Last month, after Chinese courts denied an appeal in Schellenberg's death penalty case, Canada's ambassador to China Dominic Barton said it was "no coincidence" that the verdict was reached while Meng was still being held in Vancouver.
As she was released by the Canadian court, a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracker ankle bracelet that Meng had worn for over two years was removed, and she addressed the public after the hearing, expressing gratitude for the Canadian judge and court upholding the rule of law.
Shenzhen airport, which was closed for international air traffic to tackle coronavirus
pandemic, was thrown open for her flight from Canada, the Post reported.
Ahead of her arrival, state-run China Central Television (CCTV) telecast her departure live from Vancouver where she praised the CPC and the Chinese government for her release.
Later in comments posted on social media, she said: "It is pitch dark outside. I am in the sky over the Arctic, heading home".
Her plane was flown over the Arctic, avoiding the US Alaskan airspace over fears that it may be diverted to the United States.
"Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, my home country is becoming stronger and more prosperous day by day. Without a strong motherland, I won't have my freedom today. We live in a peaceful time and were born in a great country," Meng said, adding that she grew up during the era of reform and opening-up.
Meng said she had witnessed and experienced the great transformation made possible by the Chinese people under the CPC's leadership.
Meng described China and the CPC as the shining light that has lit up "the darkest moments" of her life and led her on the long journey home, official media reported.
Her release comes just days ahead of China's October 1 National Day, which falls on Friday, and Meng said she was happy to be able to celebrate in the motherland.
"Happy Birthday to the Motherland! The road home, despite its twists and turns, is the warmest way home in the world," she said.
Her dramatic release followed after she reached a landmark deal with the US Justice Department on Friday that allows her to return to China, under which she has not pleaded guilty.
"She has not pleaded guilty and we fully expect the indictment will be dismissed with prejudice after fourteen months. Now, she will be free to return home to be with her family," official media quoted Meng's lawyer William Taylor as saying.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, in a statement on Saturday, said: "After the Chinese government's unremitting efforts, Meng left Canada and is returning on a charter flight organised by the Chinese government. She will soon reunite with her family."
"Facts have proven that it is a political persecution case targeting a Chinese national with the aim of suppressing Chinese high-tech companies," Hua said in a statement.
Hua's statement made no reference to the two Canadians who were released on Saturday.
"The so-called fraud charges against Meng are nothing but pure fabrication, she said.
"Even the HSBC -- the 'victim'' named by the US side -- has released files proving Meng's innocence," she was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
What the US and Canada have done is a typical case of arbitrary detention, Hua said.
Meng was released in a quid pro quo deal to free the two Canadians held in China after her arrest.
It is seen as US President Joe Biden
's move to wind down increasing hostilities between Washington and Beijing which had become worse by the trade war launched by his predecessor Donald Trump
Commenting on the simultaneous release of Meng and Canadians, Tom Kellogg, executive director of the Centre for Asian Law at Georgetown University Law School, told the Post that some may see the Huawei executive's release a victory for China's hard-nosed "hostage diplomacy" strategy.
Meng, who was accused of allegedly misleading banks about the company's business dealings in Iran flouting the US sanctions, was arrested during the height of the US-China trade war launched by Trump.
Meng was detained in Vancouver in December 2018 on US charges of bank fraud under the provisions of the US-Canada bilateral agreement.
The Huawei executive is also accused of misleading HSBC Holdings about her company''s dealings with Iran, which the US has sanctioned.
In the past three years Meng fought a fierce legal battle to avert her possible extradition to the United States.
Her arrest stunned China, considering the iconic status of Huawei in the country and came at a time when Trump banned its products and exports of the much-needed chips and other components used in its network gear and smartphones businesses.
Meng's detention also dented the image of China under the CPC as a powerful country.
The Chinese government has launched a major diplomatic offensive against the US and Canada against her "illegal detention", while Xi himself in his recent conversation over the phone with Biden pressed for her release.
Observers say her release also shows the Biden administration toning down the hardline policies towards China to follow a more conciliatory approach in line with the US President's assertion in his recent speech at the UN General Assembly to "not have a Cold War" with China.
"Canada has been persuading the US to drop the case. For the Biden administration, it has been evaluating US-China relations from the position of strength over the past eight months, and it understands that if it drops the charges against Meng, such progress would meet the expectation for improving bilateral ties," L Xiang, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.