U.S. Pursued Huawei CFO's Arrest Despite Risk to Trade Talks

December 11, 2018

The Trump administration arranged the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer aware of potential blow-back in trade talks with Beijing but intent on showing resolve to crack down on Chinese companies accused of violating U.S. law. The arrest happened about the same time that President Donald Trump dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires to discuss the trade war between the countries. White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, who sat at the table with Trump and Xi, knew in advance of the U.S. request that Canadian authorities arrest Huawei CFO Wanzhou Meng, he told National Public Radio Thursday. After Bolton’s interview, a White House official said that Trump was not aware of the arrest in advance, distancing the president from the provocative move.


But planning for the arrest was well underway as Trump prepared for a dinner that he said later resulted in “an incredible” deal with Xi -- an agreement that may be in danger of unravelling after Chinese officials learned of Meng’s capture and pending extradition to the U.S. Trump signaled continued optimism in trade talks in a tweet, citing an earlier Chinese statement that Beijing was “full of confidence that an agreement can be reached within the next 90 days.”


The U.S-orchestrated detention of a leading figure in the Chinese technology industry -- Meng is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei and a possible heir to his company -- undercuts a key goal for Xi in the U.S. talks: to show relations between the U.S. and China returning to a more normal footing. The timing of the move against Meng was coincidental, driven by an itinerary that put her on Canadian soil on Saturday, said a person familiar with the matter. Even so, the White House didn’t delay or block the action. Meng’s arrest is part of an ongoing investigation by U.S. prosecutors into whether Huawei violated banking laws as it sought to evade sanctions against Iran by routing a series of transactions through HSBC Holdings Plc, according to a person briefed on the matter.


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