National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Jane per­lez

BEI­JING• The ar­rest of one of China’s lead­ing tech ex­ec­u­tives by Cana­dian po­lice for ex­tra­di­tion to the United States has un­leashed a com­bustible tor­rent of out­rage and alarm among af­flu­ent and in­flu­en­tial Chi­nese, pos­ing a del­i­cate po­lit­i­cal test for Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and his grip on the loy­alty of the na­tion’s elite.

The out­pour­ing of con­flict­ing sen­ti­ments — some Chi­nese have de­manded a boy­cott of U.S. prod­ucts while oth­ers have ex­pressed anx­i­ety about their in­vest­ments in the United States — un­der­scores the un­usual, po­lit­i­cally charged na­ture of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lat­est move to counter China’s drive for tech­no­log­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity.

Un­like a new round of tar­iffs or more tough rhetoric from U.S. of­fi­cials, the de­ten­tion of Meng Wanzhou, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer of the Chi­nese tele­com gi­ant Huawei, ap­pears to have driven home the in­ten­si­fy­ing ri­valry be­tween the United States and China in a vis­ceral way for the Chi­nese es­tab­lish­ment — and may force Xi to adopt a tougher stance against Wash­ing­ton, an­a­lysts said.

In part, that is be­cause Meng, 46, is so em­bed­ded in that es­tab­lish­ment her­self.

She is one of China’s most prom­i­nent busi­ness­women — well-trav­elled, flu­ent in English, the heir ap­par­ent to a global tech­nol­ogy firm that is a source of pride for both or­di­nary Chi­nese and the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party. She is also the daugh­ter of the com­pany’s leg­endary founder, Ren Zhengfei, who built the com­pany af­ter a stint in the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army. That makes her cor­po­rate roy­alty in China — the equiv­a­lent of some­one like Sh­eryl Sand­berg, if Sand­berg were also the daugh­ter of an Amer­i­can tech pi­o­neer such as Steve Jobs.

Now Meng is in po­lice cus­tody af­ter be­ing de­tained dur­ing an air­port lay­over in Van­cou­ver on Satur­day, and the out­cry has put the Chi­nese lead­er­ship on the spot. Xi faces com­pet­ing pres­sures — to show strength, per­haps by re­tal­i­at­ing against the United States, but also to limit the cost of ris­ing ten­sions and the trade war with Wash­ing­ton on China’s rul­ing class.

“Her ar­rest will have phe­nom­e­nal reper­cus­sions in China,” said Tao Jingzhou, a cor­po­rate lawyer in Bei­jing.

“The wealthy have al­ready been wor­ried for a long time about their safety and their wealth in Amer­ica,” he added. “If the U.S. is go­ing to pur­sue cor­rup­tion and ex­trater­ri­to­rial laws, that will in­crease.”

Though Xi’s sta­tus as China’s para­mount leader is un­chal­lenged, his man­age­ment of the econ­omy and re­la­tions with the United States had come un­der crit­i­cism be­fore Meng’s ar­rest, with some blam­ing him as push­ing over am­bi­tious poli­cies that ag­gra­vated the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and pro­voked the trade war.

Deng Yuwen, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst in Bei­jing, said con­ser­va­tive forces in the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment and so­ci­ety could use Meng’s ar­rest to re­sist con­ces­sions as trade talks un­fold in the next few months.

“If the U.S. makes an ex­am­ple of Huawei, the con­ser­va­tive na­tion­al­ist forces in China and also the mil­i­tary will be very un­happy, and that will make it even more dif­fi­cult to make com­pro­mises with the United States,” he said.

“In the short term, the United States might gain from play­ing this card, but in the longer term, it doesn’t gain from this,” Deng added. “This will make it harder for the re­form­ers to speak up.”

Xi has not pub­licly com­mented on Meng’s de­ten­tion, but the Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry has ob­jected force­fully and de­manded her re­lease. A spokesman, Geng Shuang, said Wash­ing­ton needed to ex­plain why Meng was be­ing held and ac­cused Canada and the United States of vi­o­lat­ing her rights.

In the ab­sence of facts, Chi­nese so­cial me­dia has lit up with com­men­tary on Amer­i­can wicked­ness. Many users have main­tained that Meng has es­sen­tially been ab­ducted by the United States, and ar­gued that Chi­nese are no longer safe any­where. Oth­ers have ac­cused the United States of over­reach, ask­ing why Huawei’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Iran should be sub­ject to U.S. laws.

Wu Xinbo, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional stud­ies at Fu­dan Univer­sity, said many Chi­nese will see Meng’s ar­rest as part of an at­tempt by the United States to force China to con­tinue man­u­fac­tur­ing low-end con­sumer goods and pre­vent it from mov­ing up to pro­duce more ad­vanced and valu­able prod­ucts.

Peo­ple in China are aware that Wash­ing­ton con­sid­ers Huawei to be an arm of Chi­nese in­tel­li­gence and has cited se­cu­rity risks in urg­ing al­lies around the world to avoid its equip­ment. But they think that is un­proven and un­fair.

“It’s not nec­es­sary to kill Huawei,” said Cheng Xiaohe, pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at Ren­min Univer­sity. “To kill Huawei is like killing Boe­ing.”


Meng Wanzhou, right, the chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer of Huawei Tech­nolo­gies, sits be­side a trans­la­tor at a bail hear­ing in Van­cou­ver on Fri­day.

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