Chi­nese back­lash

Na­tion’s elite out­raged, with some de­mand­ing boy­cott of U.S. goods

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - JANE PER­LEZ THE NEW YORK TIMES

Ar­rest poses po­lit­i­cal test for Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and his grip on the loy­alty of the na­tion’s elite,

BEI­JING— The ar­rest of one of China’s lead­ing tech ex­ec­u­tives by Cana­dian po­lice for ex­tra­di­tion to the United States has un­leashed a tor­rent of out­rage and alarm among af­flu­ent and in­flu­en­tial Chi­nese peo­ple.

It also poses a del­i­cate po­lit­i­cal test for Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and his grip on the loy­alty of the na­tion’s elite.

Some in China have de­manded a boy­cott of U.S. prod­ucts while oth­ers have ex­pressed anx­i­ety about their in­vest­ments in the United States.

The moves un­der­score the un­usual, po­lit­i­cally charged na­ture of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lat­est move to counter China’s drive for tech­no­log­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity.

Me­dia flooded the B.C. Supreme Court in Van­cou­ver on Fri­day morn­ing for a bail hear­ing for Meng Wanzhou, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer of the Chi­nese tele­com gi­ant Huawei.

Her de­ten­tion 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 peo­ple 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.

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.

Some blamed him as push­ing overly am­bi­tious poli­cies that ag­gra­vated the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and pro­voked the trade war.

And the tim­ing of Meng’s de­ten­tion may mean more pres­sure on Xi.

It oc­curred as he and Trump were dis­cussing a truce in the trade war over din­ner in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina. Aides said Trump was un­aware of the ar­rest at the time, but some Chi­nese are al­ready say­ing the U.S. side’s fail­ure to raise it at the sum­mit amounted to a loss of face for Xi, and per­haps a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt by hawks in Wash­ing­ton to em­bar­rass China. Oth­ers said Meng’s ar­rest would em­bolden those who have long sus­pected that the United States is de­ter­mined to block China’s rise.

“This will just con­firm ev­ery­one’s worst sus­pi­cions about the U.S.,” said one re­tired busi­ness­woman with fam­ily ties to the party lead­er­ship, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity.

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 spokesper­son, Geng Shuang, said Wash­ing­ton needed to ex­plain why Meng was be­ing held and ac­cused Canada and the United States of vi­o­lat­ing her rights.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Huawei for pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tions of sanc­tions against Iran, but it has not dis­closed any de­tails or said any­thing about the charges against Meng.

Cana­dian au­thor­i­ties have also been silent, cit­ing a re­quest from Meng for a gag or­der to pro­tect her right to a fair trial.

In the ab­sence of facts, Chi­nese so­cial me­dia has lit up with com­men­tary on U.S. wicked­ness.

Many users have main­tained that Meng has es­sen­tially been ab­ducted by the United States, and ar­gued that Chi­nese are no longer safe any­where.

FRED DU­FOUR GETTY IM­AGES

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping faces com­pet­ing pres­sures — to show strength, but also to limit the cost of ris­ing ten­sions and the trade war with Wash­ing­ton on China’s rul­ing class.

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