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Chinese Government And Media React To Arrest Of Top Huawei Executive


Here's a question that we've been seeking to answer since we learned of the arrest of top Huawei exec Meng Wanzhou. Will her arrest throw a wrench into U.S.-China trade talks?


Meng was arrested last Saturday in Canada at the request of the U.S. - Saturday being the very same day that President Trump was sitting down for dinner with China's leader Xi Jinping at the G-20 meeting in Argentina. Now, just this afternoon, more information came out about the nature of the charges. A Canadian government prosecutor said Meng Wanzhou was arrested for fraud - for allegedly using an unofficial subsidiary to do business with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

KELLY: How is all of this playing in China? Well, let's ask NPR's Rob Schmitz who is in Shanghai. Hi, Rob.


KELLY: So how is all of this playing in China?

SCHMITZ: Well, Beijing's response initially was urging Canada to release Meng Wanzhou - calling her arrest a human rights violation. And the state media has sort of put its weight behind that narrative. Today, the People's Daily called her arrest a despicable hooligan act to contain the rise of Huawei. But today the government has changed its tone a little. Both China's Commerce Ministry and the Foreign Ministry made comments today that seemed to separate the arrest of Meng from the ongoing negotiations with the U.S. to try and put an end to the trade war.

KELLY: Huh. All right, well, stay with that. Why do you think the tone is changing a little bit today?

SCHMITZ: Well, you know, it seems now like China's government is trying to make sure that this incident with Huawei does not jeopardize a possible solution to the trade war. Beijing wants this trade war to end. An increase in tariffs threatens to damage China at a time when its economy is pretty vulnerable. But for those outside the government, like China's state media and others here who are crying foul over this arrest, I think it's going to be difficult for them to not see this arrest as a political move - partly because China's government operates in a similar fashion.

You know, Chinese authorities routinely shake down companies or prevent business people from leaving China for purely political reasons. And many people in China have a hard time understanding and trusting countries with independent judiciaries that do not typically operate like their country does. But, you know, the timing of Meng's arrest on the very day of the Trump-Xi meeting is not helping the optics for the U.S. here in China.

KELLY: Well, let me try to tease out a couple of threads here. The impact on American companies and business people trying to work in China - how is all this going down for them?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, that's a big concern. You know, someone forwarded me an all-staff email today from a major U.S. chipmaker. And it instructed employees to not travel to China in the near future for fear of retaliation. And I'm sure other companies are also putting travel bans on their employees to China because, you know, as I mentioned, China tends to strike back when something like this happens. And the business people I've spoken to who live and work here are pretty worried about this.

KELLY: Well, and back to the question I started with, Rob, how might the arrest of this top Chinese executive - at the behest of the U.S. - how might that impact ongoing trade dispute, trade war, trade negotiations?

SCHMITZ: Well, I think we have to look at the situation that Meng Wanzhou is in right now. I mean, she's being held by Canadian authorities for extradition to the United States. And that's a pretty - that can be a pretty lengthy process. And in some cases, that in the past has taken months. So this may not be settled anytime soon. But, you know, in the meantime, you've only got less than 90 days for the U.S. and China to reach an agreement. So I think that...

KELLY: You're talking about this clock that started ticking on December 1s that was agreed to by Xi and Trump at the G-20?

SCHMITZ: Yeah, that's right. And so I think for both sides in this trade dispute for the U.S. and China, you know, they've got a clock ticking right now. And I think that they're going to be focusing on that in the near future.

KELLY: NPR's Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz. Thank you, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thanks, Mary Louise.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOKER T. & THE MG'S "SOUL DRESSING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.