Prime minister Justin Trudeau hugged two Canadians who landed in Canada on Saturday, following what amounted to a high-stakes prisoner swap involving China, the US and Canada.
Mr Trudeau greeted Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor after their plane landed in Calgary, Alberta early Saturday.
The men were arrested in China in December 2018, shortly after Canada arrested a top executive of Chinese communications giant Huawei Technologies, on a US extradition request.
Many countries called China’s action “hostage politics”.
Footage on CTV’s news network showed the two men being hugged by Mr Trudeau on the tarmac in the early morning.
They left China just after Meng Wanzhou, 49, Huawei’s chief finance officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, reached a deal with the US justice department over fraud charges and flew from Canada to China.
Meng Wanzhou reads a statement outside court in Vancouver (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/AP)
The chain of events involving the global powers brought an abrupt end to legal and geopolitical wrangling that for the past three years has affected relations between Washington, Beijing and Ottawa.
The three-way deal enabled China and Canada to each bring home their own detained citizens while the US wrapped up a criminal case against a prominent Chinese tech executive that for months had been mired in an extradition fight.
The first activity came Friday when Meng Wanzhou reached an agreement with federal prosecutors that called for fraud charges against her to be dismissed next year and allowed for her to return to China immediately.
As part of the deal, known as a deferred prosecution agreement, she accepted responsibility for misrepresenting the company’s business dealings in Iran.
“These two men have been through an unbelievably difficult ordeal. For the past 1,000 days they have shown strength, perseverance and grace and we are all inspired by that,” Mr Trudeau said at a hastily called news conference late Friday.
News of Ms Meng’s pending return was a top item on the Chinese internet and on state broadcaster CCTV’s midday news report, with no mention made of the release of Mr Kovrig and Mr Spavor.
Michael Spavor was held in China (AP)
The deal was reached as US president Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping have sought to tamp down signs of public tension – even as the world’s two dominant economies are at odds on issues as diverse as cybersecurity, climate change, human rights and trade and tariffs.
Mr Biden said in an address before the UN General Assembly earlier this week that he had no intention of starting a “new Cold War,” while Mr Xi told world leaders that disputes among countries “need to be handled through dialogue and co-operation”.
As part of the deal with Ms Meng the US justice department agreed to dismiss the fraud charges against her in December 2022, exactly four years after her arrest, provided that she complies with certain conditions, including not contesting any of the government’s factual allegations.
The justice department also agreed to drop its request that Ms Meng be extradited to the US, which she had vigorously challenged, ending a process that prosecutors said could have persisted for months.
After appearing via videoconference for her New York hearing, Ms Meng made a brief court appearance in Vancouver, where she had been on bail living in a mansion while the two Canadians were held in Chinese prison cells where the lights were kept on 24 hours a day.
Michael Kovrig was held on spying charges (AP)
Outside the courtroom, Meng thanked the Canadian government for upholding the rule of law, expressed gratitude to the Canadian people and apologised “for the inconvenience I caused”.
Shortly afterward, Ms Meng left on an Air China flight for Shenzhen, China, the location of Huawei’s headquarters.
Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies.
The case against her stems from a January 2019 indictment from the Trump administration justice department that accused Huawei of stealing trade secrets and using a Hong Kong shell company called Skycom to sell equipment to Iran in violation of US sanctions.
The indictment also charged Ms Meng herself with committing fraud by misleading the HSBC bank about the company’s business dealings in Iran.