BEIJING - China has accused the United States of "political manipulation" after American prosecutors filed a lawsuit against Chinese tech giant Huawei and its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, for allegedly conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran.
In a strongly worded statement released hours after the US Justice Department charged both Huawei and Ms Meng of defrauding banks to evade sanctions on Iran and stealing trade secrets from an American competitor, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang urged the US to “stop unreasonable suppression of Chinese companies”, saying that China will resolutely defend the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises.
“For some time, the US has used state power to discredit and crack down on specific Chinese companies in an attempt to stifle the legitimate operations of enterprises. There are strong political attempts and political manipulation behind them,” he said on Tuesday (Jan 29).
Mr Geng urged the US to revoke the arrest warrant against Ms Meng, who is out on bail in Vancouver pending a court hearing in early February, and Canada to immediately release her.
"The abuse of bilateral extradition treaties between the United States and Canada and the unreasonable enforcement of compulsory measures against Chinese citizens are serious violations of the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens," said Mr Geng.
Reiterating China's position, he said: "The Chinese government has consistently required Chinese companies to conduct foreign economic cooperation on the basis of legal compliance, and requires countries to provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for the normal operation of Chinese enterprises."
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Tuesday called the legal action “unfair and immoral”, saying it will not affect China’s 5G development.
Huawei has rejected the US accusations, saying that it is disappointed to learn of the charges brought against it.
"The company denies that it or its subsidiary or affiliate have committed any of the asserted violations of US law set forth in each of the indictments," a Huawei spokesman told The Straits Times in a statement.
It added that the company "is not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms Meng, and believes the US courts will ultimately reach the same conclusion".
Huawei said that after Ms Meng’s arrest, the company sought an opportunity to discuss with the US Justice Department the allegation that Huawei's subsidiary violated US sanctions on Iran by doing business with Teheran and committed fraud by misleading banks about the business. But the request was rejected without explanation, according to Huawei.
With regard to the allegation that Huawei had stolen robotic technology from T-Mobile US, Huawei said that the charge was already "the subject of a civil suit that was settled by the parties after a Seattle jury found neither damages nor willful and malicious conduct on the trade secret claim", the spokesman added.
Ms Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was arrested in Vancouver on Dec 1, a move which was followed by China arresting two Canadians on national security grounds. She is scheduled in court on Tuesday to discuss her bail terms, and is subject to a US extradition request.
Canada’s Justice Minister has 30 days from receipt of the request to decide whether to grant authority to proceed. If granted, Ms Meng’s case would be sent to the British Columbia Supreme Court for a hearing, which could take weeks or months, reported Reuters.
Her lawyer Reid Weingarten said on Tuesday that Ms Meng "should not be a hostage" in the complex Sino-US relations.
“Our client, Sabrina Meng, should not be a pawn or a hostage in this relationship. Ms Meng is an ethical and honorable businesswoman who has never spent a second of her life plotting to violate any US law, including the Iranian sanctions," said Mr Weingarten, using Ms Meng other name.
Meanwhile, angry reactions have surfaced quickly on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform on Tuesday, with netizens agitating for a showdown with the US and Canada.
“Some battles need to be waged, or we will always be led by the nose, and let others dictate the rules,” wrote one Weibo user.
State media Global Times editor Hu Xijin, known for his nationalistic views, tweeted in English: “The US indictment against Huawei is like putting legal lipstick to a pig of political suppression. It is so disgusting.”
China and Hong Kong stocks dipped on news of the criminal charges against Huawei and Ms Meng, as investors express worry over their impact on crucial US-China trade talks scheduled for Wednesday.