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China's furious reaction to the arrest of a top Huawei executive suggests a tough road ahead in trade talks

Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

BEIJING -- China's sharp response to the arrest in Canada of a top executive of one of its most successful global brands, Huawei, suggests that big hurdles remain as the U.S. and China strive for a trade deal before March 1.

Meng Wanzhou, deputy chairwoman and chief financial officer of Huawei, was arrested during a transit stop at a Vancouver airport Saturday, and could face possible extradition to the U.S. and an appearance in federal court in New York.

China demanded the immediate release of Meng, who is among the cream of China's corporate elite. She is the daughter of tech billionaire Ren Zhengfei, Huawei's founder and CEO and a former engineer in the People's Liberation Army.

Chinese officials said she had not broken any laws, accused the United States and Canada of violating her rights and demanded an explanation on why she was arrested.

U.S. officials have not confirmed the reasons for her arrest, which various news reports have indicated concern alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The tensions over Meng's arrest come with U.S.-China relations balanced on a knife edge after President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed Saturday to suspend planned tariff hikes for 90 days to allow negotiations on a trade deal to end the trade conflict.

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Meng's arrest complicates the coming negotiations to resolve the trade conflict, already on a tight timeline because of holidays in the United States and China. She was arrested in Canada on the same day that the leaders met.

But in a sign that China wants to push for a deal despite anger over her arrest, officials said Thursday that trade talks would go ahead.

Commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng confirmed for the first time Thursday that China would implement the "preliminary consensus" reached between the two leaders on agricultural products, automobiles and energy, without offering further details.

Meng's arrest, significant because of her elite connections and prominent corporate position, triggered shock in China. The arrest is doubly sensitive because it threatens the rise of one of China's top cutting-edge brands, now the world's second largest smartphone company, surpassing Apple in sales this year.

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