The trade war between China and the U.S. has been raging on since July of 2018, when the U.S. first stated that it would be placing tariffs on Chinese goods. In the last few months, the two superpowers have been steadily ramping up the tariffs and affecting over $250 billion of goods. And while last weekend many breathed a sigh of relief after the tariffs were briefly halted, thanks to a dinner between the two presidents after the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, a new clash has sparked and reignited tensions between the two superpowers.
Three days after the meeting, Canada announced that they arrested the Chief Financial Officer, Meng Wanzhou, of Huawei, of the biggest Chinese telecoms companies. Though this arrest was, in my opinion, the right move, it might ultimately hurt both public perception of the west in the east and ongoing negotiations to preserve their already fragile truce.
While it is unlikely that the arrest will result in a formal ban of all items from Huawei, the move could jeopardizes what has been the only real attempt between the U.S. and China to end the trade war. It is no news that trade wars hurt all involved parties by eliminating comparative advantages, and by continuing to impose sanctions, the States and China will only hurt themselves more in the process. Knowing the inflated egos of both leaders, it seems unlikely, at least to me, that either will back down soon before they have to. As such, the shaky agreement that was reached last Saturday seemed to be a mutually beneficial solution, even if spokesmen from both sides omitted some facts and outright denied others. No matter what, even if the sanctions are simply a temporary ceasefire, both Chinese and American diplomats will have to start over from square one now that Meng has been arrested.
Additionally, even as a semi-authoritarian state, China still requires begrudging acceptance, if not outright praise, from its subjects. The events over the past week, therefore, will make for prime propaganda. Over the past decades, the Chinese Communist Party has been trying to instill an image that the West is trying to work against them. Much like Russia’s government, the Chinese government relies on whether or not the citizens buy into this “noble lie” and will likely seize this incident as a way to show the public how Chinese innovators are prevented from succeeding. The social media app Weibo, used by more than 446 million people in China alone, was flooded by posts such as “What is the U.S. Trying to do by Banning 14 Innovative Fields” and “America has Completely Shed its Disguise and has Taken Action.”
Instead of talking about how Meng violated sanctions, these posts ranted on about how the West is trying to prevent China from advancing technologically. More specifically, people think that the imprisonment of Meng was directed as an attack towards the recent project backed by Huawei to engineer 5G base station across the nation. The plan, part of a state-backed initiative, “Made in China 2025,” aims to provide metropolitan users with speedy 5G networks which could result in a “fourth Industrial revolution,” one where business and decision making will be centred around robots. In fact, Canada has spoken out publicly about the dangers of allowing such a powerful tool be controlled by the Chinese government. And so goes the argument that the Canadian government is in fact trying to hamper an initiative by the Chinese governments to speed up WiFi for its citizens.
In the end, the true threat lies neither in the trade war nor in “Made in China 2025.” Rather, the most damaging result of this recent turn of events is that the Chinese public is more likely to fall into the mindset that the West is actively working against them and trying to stymie Chinese progress. For a country to truly move in the correct direction, its citizens must urge for change first.
Neil Shen is a Junior from Vancouver, Canada. Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.