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