Donald Trump is struggling to build a wall to stop Mexican and other migrants from entering the U.S., but the work on his other wall to keep China out is making rapid progress.
Canada’s arrest of Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer on behalf of the U.S. adds another foundational layer to Trump’s Great Wall strategy to reduce China’s role and influence in North America. It was swift, dramatic, and poignant. At so many levels, it sends the message that Trump wants China out of America and its backyard. The arrest of Meng Wanzhou came right after the signing of the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) as the new China-free deal to replace the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
According to Bloomberg News, Meng, who happens to be the daughter of the company’s founder, was likely arrested for her alleged role in violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. She was detained at the Vancouver airport, and now awaits extradition to face charges in the U.S.
The December 1 arrest of the 46-year-old Meng, who is also the company’s deputy chair, effectively ends the brief trade war truce that Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping had agreed to at last week’s G20 summit in Argentina.
Huawei has become the latest lightning rod in what is part of a long-term struggle for technology and economic supremacy between the U.S. and China. Zhengfei Ren, 74, who founded the company, used to serve as a military technologist in the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) research institute.
In recent months, the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand have banned the use of Huawei components and services in mission-critical systems in their countries for fear that the Chinese government could be spying on them. Canada is under pressure to join the ban.
While plausible, the spying narrative as the reason for excluding Huawei is hypocritical.
Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple, among others, have been increasingly found to be collecting and selling the personal data of billions of users. These U.S. companies are far more pervasive and embedded in our lives than China’s largest private company is—and ever will be. Apart from profiting from our personal information, there is good reason to believe these companies allow the U.S. government access to their databases. So, what’s that about Huawei spying on people for the Chinese government?
If there is a model for government spying on citizens and others, Facebook would be it. According to the Guardian newspaper, the social media company has amassed more than 2.2 billion members, a population larger than any nation. It has collected a great deal of its members’ personal information, tracks their conversations, travel plans, and knows their networks of family and friends. If China is trying to do a Big Brother on its 1.4 billion people, never mind the world, it is running a distant second. Given the alarm already in place about Chinese government spying, Huawei is unlikely to make any progress in matching Facebook in the espionage game.
Facebook achieved Big Brotherhood a long time ago, and with much less scrutiny and resistance. Despite the growing number of stories about CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s reach into our lives, he is still seen as a regular friendly nerd, which explains why most people continue to volunteer intimate information about themselves and their close ones to his algorithms and database.
Huawei, on the other hand, comes across as a faceless corporation. It is not warm and fuzzy. Worst of all, it is linked to the Chinese government.
The real reason for the U.S. and its allies to keep Huawei out is to prevent the further rise of a long-term competitor. China has lost the trust of the West, and Huawei is just one piece in the jigsaw that is being taken apart. Other pieces are being identified and will be removed as part of the Trump strategy to see that the U.S. and its allies have as little as possible to do with China. Is that possible?
Trump’s power derives from his high-energy campaign-mode presidency. He’s always rallying the troops in a never-ending campaign to fight some enemy. China is increasingly shaping up as the perfect enemy. While fear of Russia has been around for decades, it is not universally shared in the U.S. But concerns with China are drawing popular support from across both the left and right in the U.S. At this rate, Trump will complete the construction of his Great Wall against China even before he starts work on the Mexico one.