The Chinese firm is under increasing pressure, and so are countries considering its role in their 5G networks
The struggle between the US and China is coming into sharper relief. In the weeks since the arrest of a top executive from telecoms giant Huawei, Beijing has directed pressure at Ottawa – which held her at the behest of Washington, according to their extradition treaty – rather than risk challenging its rival head-on. Now the US has formally confirmed its request and filed criminal charges against Meng Wanzhou and her company, alleging violations of sanctions on Iran and obstruction of an investigation. Separately, the Department of Justice alleges that Huawei stole robotic technology from the US carrier T-Mobile and even offered bonuses to employees who stole trade secrets, in a process outlined in startling detail in the indictment. Huawei denies all charges, and Beijing has attacked the US case as unreasonable and immoral.
The US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, has said the legal case is separate from the trade talks due to resume in Washington on Wednesday. (Those are designed to reach a deal before the deadline of early March, when tariffs on $200bn of Chinese products will otherwise rise from 10% to 25%. Despite concerns on both sides, hopes of progress are low.) Yet Donald Trump himself – who is due to meet the Chinese vice-premier Liu He this week – has suggested Ms Meng could be a bargaining chip. Those around him have made it clear that the Huawei case is not only about tackling specific actions by the company, but about checking a rival power that the US believes is advancing largely through bad faith and unfair practices. The US national security adviser, John Bolton, said last week that trade talks were not only about righting the economic balance, but aimed “to prevent an imbalance in political/military power in the future as well”. Meanwhile, Beijing’s aggressive response to Ms Meng’s detention has made it clear just how central Huawei’s success is to the party-state’s ambitions.