VANCOUVER—Meng Wanzhou’s father, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, told Chinese state media he expects his daughter will go to prison but predicts she will emerge with a doctorate.
“I don’t worry, because my daughter is also very optimistic. She is self-studying … she is going to become a ‘doctor in prison’ and come out of prison to complete a doctoral degree,” Ren said, with a smile on his face.
“Every time I call, her mother or her husband answers the phone and says that she is very busy (studying).”
The interview was first aired in Mandarin by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV last week. The video and full transcript were published on Monday.
It’s the first time Ren has clearly implied that he suspects his daughter will go to prison. The U.S. is seeking her extradition from Canada to face wire fraud, bank fraud and conspiracy charges related to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
“Under house arrest is not imprisonment,” he said. “She is surrounded by police, but life is still free.”
He added that the U.S. and Canada are “countries with rule of law” and believes the case has been sensationalized.
Samuel Wade, deputy editor of the Berkeley-based China Digital Times, which tracks Chinese media trends, said Ren’s latest comments appear consistent with his strategy so far.
“Painting his daughter’s situation as an opportunity seems like an attempt to defuse emotive ‘damsel in distress’ narratives which could complicate his efforts to navigate the clash. ‘Turning down the temperature’ like this would be consistent with other conciliatory remarks, like saying that he’d protest Chinese retaliation against Apple,” Wade said.
Meng is the chief financial officer of Huawei and deputy chairwoman of the board. She already holds a master’s degree from Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China. During her bail hearing in December, Meng’s lawyer told the court that if her bail is granted, Meng plans to spend time with her family and study at UBC’s Sauder School of Business.
The potentially years-long extradition hearing that will see Meng resist attempts to send her stateside is set to begin in January.
Beijing had launched an aggressive campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the extradition process, which they have pushed consistently since Meng’s arrest. Chinese government representatives have accused Canada of “backstabbing” and “white supremacy” while warning of “repercussions” if the U.S. extradition request is ultimately granted.
Meanwhile, two Canadians — diplomat-on-leave Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor — were detained on Dec. 10 in China and kept in undisclosed locations. Former Canadian diplomats previously told the Star Kovrig and Spavor were being held in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.
China formally arrested the pair earlier this month and transferred them to prisons. Neither Kovrig or Spavor has had access to a lawyer.
For many, the Huawei executive’s arrest at Vancouver International Airport on Dec. 1 was their first glimpse of the woman now at the centre of a bitter diplomatic dispute between Canada and China. But Meng comes from a powerhouse family in China, one that holds significant influence in both the political and business worlds.
Ren is a member of China’s revolutionary cohort, the generation that ushered China through its dramatic rise to power. Ren served in the Engineering Corps of the People’s Liberation Army and joined the Chinese Communist Party before founding the telecommunications company Huawei in 1987.
Meng is also connected to the Chinese government on her mother’s side. Her mother, Meng Jun, is the daughter of the former deputy governor of Sichuan province.
Since its founding, Huawei has grown into one of the largest telecommunication companies in the world, one of a handful capable of developing and manufacturing 5G network technologies — viewed as the next major evolution of wireless systems.
In her early 20s, Meng started working as a secretary in her father’s company. She rose through the ranks quickly as the company expanded. By 2011, Huawei was introducing her at public events as its chief financial officer.
With files from Perrin Grauer and Wanyee Li
Joanna Chiu is a reporter and managing editor of Star Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachiu