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Meng Wanzhou's open letter careful PR move but risks seeming tone deaf: experts
VANCOUVER -- An open letter written by detained Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou is the latest apparent move in a carefully cultivated image strategy that seeks to win over Canadian public opinion.
The letter was published on the Huawei website on the one-year anniversary of her arrest in Vancouver.
"She’s basically showing that she’s sensitive, that she loves the country, but she’s been wronged," said Ross Sullivan, a partner with Vancouver PR firm Peak Communicators.
Meng’s letter, which reflects on the range of emotions she’s felt over the past year and thanks Canadians who’ve shown kindness or stood by her, also sheds light on her days under virtual house arrest in her multimillion-dollar Shaughnessy mansion.
"Right now, time seems to pass slowly," Meng wrote using her English name "Sabrina." "It is so slow that I have enough time to read a book from cover to cover. I can take the time to discuss minutiae with my colleagues or to carefully completely an oil painting."
Sullivan, who does not advise Meng or Huawei, told CTV News there’s no doubt the letter is part of a strategy to seem more approachable and relatable to Canadians. But immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who’s been following the case closely, called it out of touch.
"The Canadian public won’t buy it," said Kurland. He believes there will be inevitable comparisons between Meng, who’s living in her $10 million home, and Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor who’ve been detained in China, reportedly under harsh conditions with little-to-no access to lawyers or family members.
It is widely believed that Kovrig and Spavor, who haven’t been charged and face accusations of spying, were detained nearly a year ago in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.
In her letter, Meng writes, "I no longer feel so far from home. I’m no longer afraid of the rough road ahead. While my personal freedoms have been limited, my soul still seeks to be free."
"It’s a bad play," Kurland said. "This will only harden public opinion in Canada because of the contrast," calling the letter "unusual."
But Sullivan has watched Meng’s public transformation over the past year, including her recent court appearances where she smiled, greeted and thanked members of the media, and chose clothing that showed off her court-mandated GPS ankle bracelet. He said the letter, which was likely written by a combination of several people, had a careful motive behind it.
"There’s no mistake about the choices that you make [in a high-profile case like this]," Sullivan said, mentioning the Martha Stewart case where Stewart seemed "human and approachable and likeable to the end," even after going to prison for obstruction of justice.
Kurland added no matter the impact outside the courtroom, public opinion shouldn’t matter in an extradition case.
The Huawei CFO is due back in court for the start of her extradition hearing January 20, 2020. She’s charged with bank and wire fraud in the U.S. for allegedly misrepresenting Huawei’s relationship with a subsidiary in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Ren Zhengfei, Huawei CEO and Meng's father, recently told CNN she was being held as a bargaining chip, "like a small ant being caught between the collision of two giant powers."
Meng has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.