China has separated the arrest of Huawei’s chief financial officer Sabrina Meng Wanzhou from trade talks between Beijing and Washington, although the US side is hinting that the case would be a bargaining chip in broad dialogue between the two countries.
Gao Feng, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said on Thursday that he had no information at all about Meng’s case. Gao also said China was confident about reaching a trade deal with the United States within the 90-day truce agreed by the two sides in Argentina last weekend.
Separately, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also refused to directly link the arrest of Meng – in Canada last Saturday at the request of the United States – with the trade negotiations.
China demanded that Canada and the US explain the arrest and release Meng immediately, Geng said. “As for the China-US trade talks, I have been saying in the last two days that … the two sides are accelerating negotiations to reach a win-win deal as soon as possible.”
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Beijing’s restrained response marked a contrast to rhetoric in the country’s state-run media. Global Times, the hawkish tabloid backed by the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece People’s Daily, published an editorial calling Meng’s arrest a “despicable” hooligan act by Washington to contain Huawei’s rise.
The editorial argued that the arrest in Vancouver – on the same day as US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping dined together in Buenos Aires – had “clearly violated the important consensus the two leaders reached in Argentina”.
“We are still not clear whether [the arrest] is a joint action by US administrative and judicial forces or is a result of chaotic policies at various US departments,” the editorial read. It added that Meng’s case showed China was facing a complicated power play in the US.
At the same time, US national security adviser John Bolton said global Chinese tech firms like Huawei would be a “major subject” of discussion between the US and Chinese governments during their trade negotiations, although Bolton did not specify whether Meng’s case would be covered in future talks.
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“Huawei is one company we’ve been concerned about,” the senior White House adviser said. “There are others as well. I think this is going to be a major subject of the negotiations that President Trump and President Xi Jinping agreed to in Buenos Aires.”
The US is reportedly investigating whether Huawei contravened US sanctions by selling technology to Iran. The telecoms giant has denied any wrongdoing by the company and Meng.
Chinese researchers argued that Meng’s arrest was part of Washington’s plan to seek more from Beijing in trade negotiations.
Liu Weidong, a China-US affairs expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it was a calculated act by Washington aimed at improving its hand in trade negotiations with Beijing.
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“We’ll see more cases like this over the next three months, sanctioning China’s state-owned enterprises and individuals, to boost momentum on the US side,” Liu said.
Meanwhile, China’s state news agency Xinhua again hailed the Xi-Trump summit, saying the talks had been a great success that produced “exciting” results.
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Trump tweeted that he shared Beijing’s optimism about a potential trade deal. He wrote: “Statement from China: ‘The teams of both sides are now having smooth communications and good cooperation with each other. We are full of confidence that an agreement can be reached within the next 90 days.’ I agree!”
Additional reporting by Kristin Huang