China remains outraged by Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, with constant denunciations of the case against Meng as a purely political exercise masterminded by the U.S. government.
On Tuesday, China’s state-run Global Times accused the United States of “mobilizing its allies” to “strangle” Huawei, a nefarious campaign in which the “unfair persecution” of Meng is only one element.
The Global Times dismissed concerns about the security risks posed by Huawei products – which, like every other element of the Chinese tech industry, can be commandeered by the government for espionage purposes at will under the country’s cybersecurity laws – to claim the United States is merely trying to crush a foreign competitor for the benefit of American corporations:
Huawei is the most successful private Chinese enterprise in cyber communication technologies, standing at the forefront of 5G technology. The company owns one of the largest research teams and the largest scale of patents among transnational corporations. Its management model has drawn extensive lessons from major Western companies. Many core members are foreigners. When it comes to either operating norms or internationalization, Huawei has reached the highest standard of multinational companies.
The US is framing Huawei and mustering other forces to suppress this Chinese company. The company can be described as decent from whatever perspective. The US move severely violates basic morality that has been supporting global scientific and technological progress for a long time. It is a brutal interference and an attack against the system of scientific and technological innovation, which in peacetime is dominated by the intellectual property system and free market rules. It is a major retrogression to allow geopolitics to dominate everything.
Huawei’s case sets up an extremely unfair stumbling block to China’s rightful development. It demonstrates to the world the strategic selfishness of the US and some other Western forces who want to maintain their capability to monopolize scientific and technological progress.
The editorial concluded with China’s standard line that Beijing has become the champion of free trade and doting grandfather of developing economies:
Those who are following the US footsteps in boycotting Huawei should be reminded that cracking down on a company is cracking down on international competition. They have given Washington the power to redefine the international scientific research order, market order and political order. This is definitely not a good thing for smaller countries.
The order those countries need should not be forcefully promoted or arbitrarily modified by a single superpower, but should contain implicit support for checks and balances. Crippling Huawei is crippling every country’s ability to implement independence and sovereignty based on the existence of multiple options. Therefore the move to encircle and suppress Huawei will never turn into a glorious chapter of history in the US or the West.
Writing at the New Yorker on Monday, Jiayang Fan summarized Beijing’s line on the Meng arrest and found it playing well with the Chinese populace due to lingering memories of abuse by technologically superior Western powers in centuries past and surging Chinese nationalism:
National pride has been stoked by what the Global Times has termed a “despicable hooliganism” and an “unconscionable” attempt to contain Chinese growth. “Some Western countries are resorting to political means to resist Huawei’s attempts to enter into their markets,” the newspaper claimed, and its editor tweeted that “Arresting Meng Wanzhou is bringing terrorism to state and business competition.”
Little sympathy seems to be expressed for what the state news agency Xinhua called “coercive measures” in detaining two Canadian citizens—a former diplomat and a businessman—in China in the days following Meng’s arrest, on the grounds of unspecified “activities jeopardizing Chinese national security.” It is difficult not to see those arrests as related to Meng’s detention.
Besides the historical background of Chinese paranoia about technological inferiority, and the unaddressed elephant in the room that China’s authoritarian government can require the population to believe and support any narrative it cares to offer, Fan’s argument implies Chinese citizens view the Meng case through the lens of their own politics: Meng Wanzhou is a member in very good standing of the Chinese power elite, so her arrest in Canada and potential prosecution in America must be a political act. It would not be the first time China has assumed the American elite plays by rules similar to Chinese Communist royalty and it is not a completely outlandish assumption.
Canada’s Global News saw Canada caught “between a rock and a hard place” as it balances the demands of its huge trading partners China and America in the Meng affair and the larger question of how to deal with companies like Huawei. Missives like the Global Times editorial can be seen as efforts to nudge Canada onto Team China by offering a political narrative for dropping the charges against Meng and wholeheartedly endorsing China’s view of global trade.
Conversely, Elliott Zaagman suggested at Channel News Asia on Tuesday that Meng’s arrest is a sign of “pronounced pushback” against China’s aggressive policies, and if Meng ends up in a U.S. courtroom it would demonstrate the limits of Chinese statecraft.
Zaagman noted Huawei and China’s other telecom giant, ZTE, have been banned outright or quietly dropped from major projects in Japan, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, India, and the European Union. He took this as a sign China is losing the public-relations war and alienating nations around the world with heavy-handed tactics such as “leveraging nationalist outrage to achieve diplomatic goals” and arresting Canadian nationals in a fit of “tantrum diplomacy.”
Zaagman’s key insight is that China’s aggressive use of sharp power – the fusion of political agendas and economic muscle – has been seen as distressingly successful because the Chinese have been able to force foreign companies to obey their edicts, but in truth these exercises have made the world more uneasy about doing business with China and more conscious that its business enterprises are arms of the Chinese state. From this perspective, China’s haughty demands of leniency for Meng could backfire, since impartial observers can see there is ample reason she belongs in a courtroom answering tough questions.
The BBC on Tuesday noted there even some trepidation in the Chinese online community over the effort to whip up nationalist support for Meng, including a popular tourist attraction called Shennong Mountain Scenic Park offering free admission to anyone who shows up with a Huawei mobile phone, discounts for Huawei owners at Beijing bars, and even threats of penalties from Chinese firms against employees who choose Apple products instead of Huawei.