Meng Wanzhou, Huawei “princess” and face of “Cold War 2.0”

She says she started at the bottom of the ladder at Huawei before becoming known under the nickname of the group’s “princess”: it is through Meng Wanzhou, financial director of the Chinese telecommunications giant and daughter of its president, that the serious diplomatic crisis between Ottawa and Beijing has arrived.

At 49, Ms. Meng is at the heart of a nearly three-year-long diplomatic-judicial saga that seems to be nearing its end: while the Chinese was targeted by an extradition procedure to the United States, American justice on Friday ratified an agreement between Washington and Huawei that will allow her to return to her country against “a postponement” of the proceedings against her.

Meng Wanzhou was arrested on December 1, 2018 at Vancouver Airport at the request of Washington. Days later, two Canadians, Michael Spavor, a businessman, and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, were arrested in China, sparking a crisis between Beijing and Ottawa.

“It all starts with her: it is through her that the scandal happens, the whole file is defined by her, the two Michael would not be a story if there had not been her arrest”, affirms Frédéric Mégret, professor. law specialist in extradition at McGill University.

Today N.2 of the Chinese giant, the interested party insists on her beginnings at the bottom of the ladder. According to Chinese media, she said in an internal memo that she started out as a switchboard operator / typist. She then obtained a management degree in China before joining Huawei Financial Services. Unlike the somewhat drab businessmen who populate the boards of directors of large Chinese companies, Ms. Meng has a reputation for being cheerful and approachable, despite her nickname “Princess of Huawei”.

Also according to the Chinese press, she was very discreet in her beginnings, to the point that few people knew who her father was – if only because she had been bearing the last name from an early age. from his mother, for some reason. Ren Zhengfei, still chairman of the group, “is a boss at work and a father at home,” Ms. Meng said, seeking to demonstrate that her rise had nothing to do with being a “daughter of.”

In her interviews, she talks about “President Ren”, never about “my father”. She would express herself easily in English and took two Western-sounding first names, “Cathy” and “Sabrina”. His father, 76, a former engineer in the Chinese military, founded Huawei in 1987 with an initial capital of a few thousand dollars. In early 2020, Huawei was the world’s largest smartphone maker before being blacklisted by the former Trump administration.

It has no longer been among the top five in the world in the sector. “Meng Wanzhou is the face of this fierce new competition between China” and the United States which “threatens to question the global hegemonic position of the Americans” and the “liberal world order” they have ruled since the Cold War , observes Roromme Chantal, professor at the École des Hautes Etudes Publiques (HEP) in Moncton and a specialist in China. “The form that this fierce competition takes is mainly a technological rivalry”, he explains, referring to a “Cold War 2.0”.

Throughout the procedure, the Chinese government considered that the American administration was above all seeking to weaken Huawei, a cutting-edge Chinese company and world leader in 5G equipment and networks, unmatched on the American side. “One in ten thousand extradition cases concerns individuals with strong social and political capital,” said Frédéric Mégret, of McGill University.

Ms. Meng is “a representative in due form of Chinese capitalism embodied by Huawei, conqueror but also subject to industrial and security mistrust” in terms of espionage, he adds. Approached before her arrest to succeed her father, Ms. Meng has since been living on probation, with a curfew and an electronic ankle bracelet, in one of the luxury homes she owns in this western Canadian city.

Throughout this legal saga, Meng Wanzhou has often appeared with a smile in front of photographers as she left her home to attend BC Supreme Court hearings. At the end of 2020, her husband, Liu Xiao zong, and her two children had been allowed to join her, while Canada had closed its borders to foreigners with rare exceptions.

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