White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was out on the defensive repeatedly Monday over the Biden administration’s involvement in a prisoner swap between China and Canada over the weekend — with some reporters pressed her on Senate Republicans’ criticism of the release of Huawei’s finance chief.
During the White House’s daily press briefing, Psaki was questioned specifically on how the prisoner swap could incentivize China to seize foreign nationals in the future, as some have accused the Biden administration of appeasing China.
Psaki started off by saying the prisoner swap was independent under the Department of Justice, calling it a “law enforcement” and “legal” matter that would be “inappropriate” for her to comment on further.
“I would note though, because I think there was a lot wrapped up in their criticism there, is that our policy has not changed toward China. We’re not seeking conflict,” she said.
“We are in a relationship of competition, and we’re going to continue to hold the PRC to account for its unfair economic practices, its course of actions around the world and its human rights abuses. And we will continue to do that in partnership with our allies around the world.”
On Saturday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Tx) told Reuters that the release of Wanzhou “raises serious questions about President Biden’s ability and willingness to confront the threat posed by Huawei and the Chinese Communist Party.”
“We have already seen how the administration’s single-minded focus on climate is causing them to downplay genocide. This is just another example of the Biden Administration’s dangerously soft approach toward Beijing,” he added.
Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) echoed Rubio’s sentiments, telling the outlet the move was capitulation towards the Asian nation.
“I’m very concerned that this appears, that it could be more appeasement from the Biden Administration, more capitulation,” he said. “Huawei is an aggressive predatory company. It’s backed by the Chinese Communist Party. We have given up leverage today.”
While Psaki further defended the Department of Justice’s move, she did admit that the administration does not know whether the release of Wanzhou will incentivize China to seize other foreign nationals to strike similar deals.
“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,” she said. “At the same time, we have made no secret about our push to have the two Michael’s released. That’s certainly positive news and good news.”
Psaki also revealed that during President Biden’s call with Chinese President Xi earlier this month, the White House did make clear the importance of returning the two Canadians detained in China home. There was no negotiation on the call, Psaki added.
On Friday, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were released from prison as part of a three-way swap deal between Canada, China and the US. Their release came just after Wanzhou — who was arrested in Canada in December 2018 — was allowed to return home as part of a deal with the US Department of Justice.
Spavor and Kovrig had been detained in China shortly after Canada’s arrest of Meng on a US extradition request. Meng was later released from jail but forbidden from leaving the country, enraging the Chinese government. Many countries labeled China’s action as “hostage politics.”