Top American execs fear China reprisal after Huawei arrest
At a closed-door security meeting of US companies in Singapore on Thursday, one topic was high on the agenda: the arrest of a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei and the potential backlash on American firms operating in China.
Officials from major US companies who attended the event, a scheduled meeting of the local chapter of the US Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), voiced concerns about retaliation against American firms and their executives, two people with knowledge of the meeting said.
A number of attendees said their companies were considering restricting non-essential China travel and looking to move meetings outside the country, one of the people added.
Security executives for companies including Walt Disney, Alphabet's Google, Facebook, and PayPal Holdings attended the meeting, according to the sources and a LinkedIn posting by one of the attendees.
The companies all declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.
Following publication of this story, Google spokesperson Taj Meadows said in a statement that it “misrepresents” what happened at the meeting. He asserted that there was “no discussion on the record or behind closed doors about the arrest of a top Huawei executive or about American companies operating in China”.
Meadows also said he was not at the meeting and could not say whether attendees discussed China travel informally.
The discussions at the meeting underscore concerns rippling through US businesses in the world's second largest economy, already facing a delicate balancing act amid a tense trade standoff between Washington and Beijing.
The formal agenda for the meeting, held at Google's Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore, included presentations on economic crime and terrorism in the region. OSAC promotes "security cooperation between American private sector interests worldwide and the US Department of State," according to its website.
But informal conversations among attendees soon turned to possible risks in China prompted by the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer and "heiress" of Chinese telecom network equipment giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, who was
detained in Canada on Dec. 1. The news of the arrest was made public on Wednesday.
Meng, the daughter of Huawei's founder, was held at Washington's request as part of a U.S. investigation of an alleged scheme to use the global banking system to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, people familiar with the probe said.
The arrest has roiled global markets amid fears that it could further inflame the Sino-US trade row.
Risk consultants and analysts said that the arrest could prompt Beijing to retaliate in some form.
"This will pressure a lot of Chinese officials to look strong in this dispute," said Nick Marro, Hong Kong-based Asia analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, who added that technology companies were particularly at risk.
"This could mean either taking a stronger stance on trade negotiations, or taking a stronger stance on U.S. tech firms in China right now."
Later, China warned Canada on Saturday that there would be severe consequences if it did not immediately release Huawei's chief financial officer, calling the case "extremely nasty". "China strongly urges the Canadian side to immediately release the detained person, and earnestly protect their lawful, legitimate rights, otherwise Canada must accept full responsibility for the serious consequences caused." The statement did not elaborate.
China warned Canada that there would be severe consequences if it did not immediately release Huawei's CFO