When A 'Trade War' Involves Seizing And Imprisoning Foreign Execs, It's No Longer Just About Trade

For years we’ve been writing about the weird US government infatuation with the Chinese telco equipment firm, Huawei. The company has built a widely successful business, but going back many years there’s been a loud whisper campaign that the company’s equipment would send information back to the Chinese government. Of course, when our own government investigated this, it could find no evidence at all that this was true. It also seems notable that Huawei itself asked for this investigation, claiming that it would clear the company’s name, since it wasn’t doing anything that people were accusing it of doing. This doesn’t mean that the company isn’t doing something nefarious, but such claims should have some sort of evidence to back them up, and so far they’ve been lacking.

Of course, this may have been one of those situations where people assumed that whatever we would do to others, others must be doing to us, because what we do know, is that the NSA broke into Huawei’s computers and grabbed a bunch of emails and source code. That bit seems to get left out of all the fear mongering reporting about Huawei. Oh, and it later came out that much of the whisper campaign about Huawei spying for the Chinese government… originated from the US firm Cisco, which was seeing its market share eroded by Huawei.

So we’ve long taken the claims about Huawei with a large grain of salt, even as most in the media have been willing to repeat the allegations about Huawei without mentioning the lack of evidence, Cisco’s involvement, or the fact that the US government swiped a bunch of stuff from Huawei, even though all of those things seem kinda relevant.

By now, of course, you’ve probably heard that Canadian officials arrested Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, who also happens to be the daughter of the founder, and there are plans to try to extradite her to the US. While no charges have been revealed, most people claim it has to do with violating US sanctions on Iran by shipping US made equipment to Iran. The details here will matter, but it’s still incredibly unusual to have a friendly country arrest a top exec and then try to extradite them.

Even if the official charges have nothing to do with the ongoing trade war with China, as nearly everyone is pointing out, there’s no way this doesn’t create massive blowback on any new trade agreement. Remember it was just a few days ago (was it really just a few days?) that President Trump announced that he’d agreed to end the senseless trade war he’d started (which has created a massive import tax on American businesses and consumers). Of course, when the Chinese gave their version of the story, it sounded remarkably different than Trump’s version.

But, at least it sounded like progress was being made, and maybe we could end the insanity. But, of course, by having an ally arrest a top exec, it’s thrown everything up in the air. Imagine, for example, if Sheryl Sandberg was on a trip to Pakistan, and was arrested by authorities there and extradited to China to face criminal charges. That’s kind of the equivalent of what the US has just done via Canada.

Then, take it a step further. White House officials have told the press that they believe Meng “could be used as leverage with China in trade talks,” and you realize this has fuck all to do with Iranian sanctions. No, that’s the White House more or less admitting that they’ve taken a hostage in a trade war. That’s hellishly dangerous. Because China will not hesitate to retaliate. If I were an American business exec, I’d stay far away from China or any of its allies right about now.

Arresting an executive over such a thing, and then admitting you want to use her as “leverage,” just as you’re negotiating a complex trade deal is… the kind of thing that turns a trade war into an actual war. It’s an incredibly dangerous move that should concern everyone.
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