White House says ‘no link’ between release of Huawei exec and ‘Two Michaels’

White House press secretary Jen Psaki
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The White House said on Monday there is “no link” between the deal the U.S. and China struck over the release of a Huawei executive and China’s decision to release two Canadians detained in the country for three years.

The Department of Justice announced on Friday it dropped its extradition case against Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested by Canadian authorities in 2018 at the request of the U.S. on charges of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. 

Later on Friday, China released Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, dubbed the “Two Michaels.” Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, and Spavor, a businessman, were detained in China in December 2018 on espionage charges. Although China denies it, the arrests of the two men were in apparent retaliation for the detention of Wanzhou in Vancouver.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was pressed on the coinciding releases during a press briefing Monday. 

“I think it’s important to note, and to be very clear about this, there is no link,” Psaki said. “We have an independent Justice Department. We can’t determine how the Chinese or others manage their business over there. It’s a little bit different.” 

“But we have an independent Justice Department that made independent decisions, law enforcement decisions. At the same time, we have made no secret about our push to have the Two Michaels released. That’s certainly positive news and good news,” she added.

Psaki, when asked if the White House was involved in brokering the prisoner swap between China and Canada, said Biden had repeatedly advocated for the release of the Canadians but denied suggestions of a quid pro quo. 

“We make the case consistently at every level, and we have for some time now, including in the president’s call with [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping] about the importance of these two individuals returning back to their home,” she said. 

Biden spoke on the phone with Xi on Sept. 9. Psaki said Biden brought up the Two Michaels but that there was no negotiation on the call.

“It was President Biden raising and pressing again for the release of these Two Michaels, as is something that happens in every engagement we do with the Chinese or had up to this point in time,” she said.

China’s government has also faced questions about the release of the Canadians, who were being held on charges of espionage. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has said they were granted bail for medical reasons, according to The Washington Post

Some Republican senators have blasted the Biden administration for the release of Wanzhou, accusing it of capitulation to China. 

“This is just another example of the Biden Administration’s dangerously soft approach towards Beijing,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a text message to Reuters.

Psaki said Monday that the U.S. policy toward China has not changed as a result of the agreement with Wanzhou.

“We’re not seeking conflict. It is a relationship of competition, and we are going to continue to hold the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to account for its unfair economic practices, its coercive actions around the world and its human rights abuses, and we will continue to do that in partnership with our allies around the world,” she said.

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