Yesterday, Donald Trump took to Twitter in order to vent frustration about China, thus sowing seeds of doubt in respect of reports from earlier in January which suggested that the US and China were on the verge of completing a new trade deal. Trump stated:
“China posts slowest economic numbers since 1990 due to U.S. trade tensions and new policies. Makes so much sense for China to finally do a Real Deal, and stop playing around!”
China posts slowest economic numbers since 1990 due to U.S. trade tensions and new policies. Makes so much sense for China to finally do a Real Deal, and stop playing around!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2019
Forgetting the fact that Trump misrepresents the economic development model that has evolved in China and the consequent reticence of China to abandon fiscal and monetary prudence in order to create an artificial boom, the Tweet appears to be indicative of frustration on Trump’s part.
Hours after Trump’s Tweet, reports began to surface that Washington was going to seek the extradition of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the Chinese businesswoman detained in Canada late last year upon the request of the United States. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying offered a strong rebuke of the latest news regarding the plight of Meng whose human rights were violated upon her detention in Canada. Hua stated,
“We also strongly urge the US to immediately correct the mistakes, withdraw the arrest warrant against Meng, and not make a formal extradition request to the Canadian side”.
“The Chinese government has repeatedly expressed our solemn position on the incident. Anyone with normal judgment can see that Meng’s case is not an ordinary judicial one. The Canadian side has arbitrarily abused the extradition treaty between Canada and the United States, which constitutes a serious violation of the safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizen”.
It remains to be seen how the US will respond to Hua’s firm statement, but it certainly appears that the close proximity in time between Donald Trump’s Tweet on China and the news about Meng’s situation potentially going from bad to worse, are inexplicably related.
When it comes to Washington using Meng as a human pawn in the destructive trade war, Trump himself let slip that the US sought to use the captivity of Meng as a bargaining chip during the course of the present trade talks with Beijing. In December, when specifically asked if Trump would end Meng’s captivity in exchange for a positive trade deal with China, the US President stated,
“If I think it’s good for what will certainly be the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary”.
Whilst China continues to compartmentalise its manifold relations with the US in such a way so as to not allow one area of dispute to disrupt progress in areas where fostering agreement is necessary, Washington appears to exhibit the opposite approach. Whilst China has vowed to secure Meng’s release whilst separately working towards a positive conclusion to the Trump instigated trade war, for the US, not only are the issues of Meng and the trade war indelibly linked, but so too is the wider attempt by the US to see Meng’s company Huawei pushed out of the market in North America, Europe and Australia.
For the US and Canada, the politically motivated violation of Meng’s human rights represents a Jamal Khashoggi moment insofar as a woman simply trying to do her job has had her life destroyed by a vicious political game that she had no part in. The key now is for Meng’s supporters to work tirelessly towards the goal of achieving her earliest release.
If a China-US trade deal will correspond with Meng’s release, so be it, but far from being a win-win outcome, this would represent the solidifying of a deeply dangerous precedent whereby civilian businessmen and women can be brutally harassed in order to be used as leverage in unrelated geopolitical disputes. This not only violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, but violates every norm of human decency.
Because of this, China has been right not to sacrifice its position in trade talks in order to free Meng as this would essentially be validating the US strategy to transform a human life into a political pawn. The only solution is for China to make it clear that proportional and legal responses to Meng’s detention will be forthcoming unless her release is forthcoming.