Is America Taking Hostages Over Trade Negotiations With China?

Alexei Druzhinin/TASS/ZUMA

For several months the United States has sought to arrest Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese tech giant Huawei, on fraud charges related to the evasion of sanctions on Iran. Earlier this month, they asked the Canadian government to take her into custody during a layover at Vancouver airport, which they did. The Justice Department is now fighting an extradition case so they can try her in a US court.

China’s leaders are not thrilled about this, of course, and it’s one of many things we’re at loggerheads over. Today Donald Trump was asked about her case:

When asked if he would intervene with the Justice Department in her case, Trump said in an interview with Reuters: “Whatever’s good for this country, I would do.”

If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made — which is a very important thing — what’s good for national security — I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary,” Trump said.

Let me get this straight. The president of the United States is suggesting that in order to close a trade deal with another country, he would offer to release one of its citizens who’s on trial for criminal conduct. But if they don’t agree on a trade deal, then this citizen will be tried and most likely tossed into prison.

In other words, Trump is treating Meng Wanzhou as a hostage pending concessions from China over trade relations.

Do I have this right? Am I missing some nuance? This hasn’t gotten a ton of play in the press, but it seems like a big deal even in the Trump era. It’s the kind of thing thug states and banana republics do, not democratic nations dedicated to the rule of law.

Am I taking this too seriously? Or is it as shocking as I think it is?