The Trump administration's mustachioed national security adviser, John Bolton, sitting with his team opposite the Chinese delegation in Buenos Aires. Photo: AFP

Perhaps the most striking detail of the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Canada was that it took place on the same day that leaders from the US and China were engaged in delicate trade talks in Buenos Aires.

After news of the event, which didn’t break until Wednesday, speculation swirled as to whether the US or the Chinese president knew of the law-enforcement action.

Buenos Aires is five hours ahead of Vancouver, where the arrest took place, so it is possible that the Chinese delegation was unaware.

But at least one Trump administration official in attendance at the dinner suggested he did know of the police action.

In response to a question as to whether US President Donald Trump knew in advance, national security adviser John Bolton said in an interview with NPR Thursday: “You know, I don’t know the answer to that. I knew in advance, but this is something that’s, that we get from the Justice Department and these kinds of things happen with some frequency. We certainly don’t inform the president on every one of them.”

Bolton went on to qualify that statement, noting that, while he was aware the action was pending, he was not necessarily aware that it had been or would be carried out that day.

Whether Beijing was informed of the arrest before or after the dinner, the Chinese did know about it before they issued later statements indicating that trade talks were moving forward, a clear signal that the arrest had not derailed the trade talks.

Meng was arrested in connection with alleged violations of Iran sanctions, an issue that had previously become entangled in US-China trade talks when the Trump administration slapped harsh penalties on Chinese telecom giant ZTE. Trump eventually relented on the ZTE issue amid negotiations with China on trade and cooperation with North Korea sanctions, leading to speculation that Meng’s arrest might become a bargaining chip in the current round of trade talks.

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