Huawei arrest deepens conflict between U.S., China
The dramatic arrest of a Chinese telecommunications executive has driven home why it will so hard for the Trump administration to resolve its deepening conflict with China.
In the short run, the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer heightened skepticism about the trade truce that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping reached last weekend in Buenos Aires, Argentina. On Thursday, U.S. stock markets tumbled on fears that the 90-day cease-fire won’t last before regaining most of their losses by the close of trading.
But the case of an executive for a Chinese company that’s been a subject of U.S. national security concerns incident carries echoes well beyond tariffs or market access. Washington and Beijing are locked in a clash over which of the world’s two largest economies will command economic and political dominance for decades to come.
“It’s a much broader issue than just a trade dispute,’’ said Amanda DeBusk, chair of the international trade practice at Dechert LLP. “It pulls in: Who is going to be the world leader essentially.’’
Huawei, the world’s biggest supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies, has long been seen as a front for spying by the Chinese military or security services. A U.S. National Security Agency cybersecurity adviser, Rob Joyce, last month accused Beijing of violating a 2015 agreement with the U.S. to halt electronic theft of intellectual property.
Other nations are increasingly being forced to choose between Chinese and U.S. suppliers for next-generation “5G” wireless technology. Washington has been pushing other countries not to buy the equipment from Huawei, arguing that the company may be working stealthily for Beijing’s spymasters.
The Huawei executive, Meng Wanzhou, was detained by Canadian authorities in Vancouver as she was changing flights Saturday — the same day that Trump and Xi met at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina and produced a cease-fire in their trade war. The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing law enforcement sources, reported that Meng is suspected of trying to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. She faces possible extradition to the United States, according to Canadian authorities.
Beijing protested the arrest but signalled that it doesn’t want to disrupt progress toward settling its trade dispute with the Trump administration. Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said China is confident it can reach a deal during the 90 days that Trump agreed to suspend a scheduled increase in U.S. import taxes on $200 billion worth of Chinese products.
In the view of the United States and many outside analysts, China has embarked on an aggressive drive to overtake America’s dominance in technology and global economic leadership. According to analysts, China has deployed predatory tactics, from and forcing American and other foreign companies to hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market to engaging in cyber-theft .
Washington also regards Beijing’s ambitious long-term development plan, “Made in China 2025,’’ as a scheme to dominate such fields as robotics and electric vehicles by unfairly subsidizing Chinese companies and discriminating against foreign competitors.
In addition to Trump’s tariffs, the administration is tightening regulations on hightech exports to China. It is also making it harder for Chinese firms to invest in U.S. companies or to buy American technology in such cutting-edge areas as robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Earlier this year, the United States nearly drove Huawei’s biggest Chinese rival, ZTE Corp., out of business for selling equipment to North Korea and Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. But Trump issued a reprieve, possibly in part because the U.S. tech companies are major suppliers of the Chinese giant and would also have been scorched. ZTE got off with paying a $1 billion fine, changing its board and management and agreeing to let American regulators monitor its operations.
The U.S. and Chinese tech industries depend on each other so much for components that “it is very hard to decouple the two without punishing U.S. companies, without shooting ourselves in the foot,’’ said Adam Segal, cyberspace analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations.
British Telecom said this week that it would stop using Huawei equipment in its 5G network, and U.S. lawmakers have lobbied Canada’s prime minister to freeze out the Chinese supplier. New Zealand and Australia already have.
China’s President Xi Jinping applauds during the signing of agreements between Portugal and China Wednesday.