Influential state media linked to China’s ruling Communist Party on Friday described Washington as a “despicable rogue” attempting to “stifle” China’s global rise by arranging for the arrest of a top executive at one of its major technology firms.
Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies – China’s largest telecoms equipment maker – was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 as she changed planes. Canada’s Justice Department said Meng, 46, who is the daughter of the company’s founder, was detained due to an extradition request by the United States.
It provided no reason for why Meng was taken into custody but Canadian media reported she was arrested on suspicion of evading U.S. sanctions by selling American-made components to Iran. Several U.S. senators also made that connection. “There is ample evidence to suggest that no major Chinese company is independent of the Chinese government and Communist Party – and Huawei, which China’s government and military tout as a ‘national champion,’ is no exception,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., in a statement. Warner said Huawei “poses a threat to our national security.”
Ben Sasse, R.-Neb., called Meng an agent of China’s Communist Party.
Huawei denied the accusation and state media came down firmly on its side.
The Global Times, an English-language tabloid published by China’s Communist Party, said the incident illustrated a “U.S. tendency to abuse legal procedures to suppress China’s high-tech enterprises.” The paper noted that there was strong opposition to Meng’s arrest by China’s Embassy in Canada, which called her detention a “gross violation of human rights.” It alleged that President Donald Trump’s administration was maliciously “taking aim at the tech giant’s global market in the name of the law.”
China Daily, a separate Chinese government mouthpiece, claimed Meng’s arrest proved “the U.S. is trying to do whatever it can to contain Huawei’s expansion in the world simply because the company is the point man for China’s competitive technology companies.” It said it was an example of the U.S.’s “pertinacious Cold War mentality” toward China and relations between the two countries would suffer as a result.
Still, the harsh assessment from China’s state media came in marked contrast to conciliatory comments from China’s ministry of commerce, which signaled Beijing wanted to avoid the incident becoming an impediment to trade talks with Washington that could see them settle a dispute over billions of dollars of tariffs. A government statement simply requested the U.S. “correct its mistake” in calling for Meng’s arrest.
And on the U.S. side there was caution, too.
While Canadian authorities only revealed information about Meng’s arrest on Wednesday, it actually took place on the same day Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping held talks at the Group of 20 economic summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton told National Public Radio on Thursday he wasn’t aware in advance the arrest was taking place. He also said he didn’t know if Trump knew about Meng’s pending detention before it happened.
The incident has alarmed financial markets. Stock indexes around the world sank on Thursday as investors fretted over how Meng’s possible extradition to the U.S. would affect an already fragile U.S.-China relationship. Attempts to end the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies have been difficult and there are fears that China may aggressively retaliate against American executives and firms in China.
Trump and Xi agreed in Buenos Aires to a 90-day truce over additional tariffs.
“Every American firm that does business in China is vulnerable, because Chinese laws are extremely vague. There is no way to get official clarification. So people, in order to do business, have to work in that murky regulatory environment,” Jeff Moon, a U.S. trade representative to China under President Barack Obama, told CNBC.
“The Chinese can crack down quite easily because those laws are vague and they can interpret them however they want,” he added.
International experts believe China’s emergence as a global economic power that intends to challenge for dominance in virtually every field from space exploration to military supremacy is one of the chief challenges facing the United States in the 21st century and beyond. China is now the world’s number one producer of undergraduates with science and engineering degrees, accounting for more than a quarter of all these degrees globally, according to the Bruegel think tank. Its military cyber-warfare units have carried out repeated attacks on American companies and government departments and have even reportedly tapped Trump’s iPhone, a testament to its growing sophistication and prowess in digital surveillance. In his NPR interview, Bolton said Chinese firms like Huawei use stolen U.S. intellectual property, an allegation China has consistently denied and says is eroding trust between the two nations.
Canadian authorities said Wednesday that they have arrested the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies for possible extradition to the United States.