Robber barons kidnap Chinese princess for ransom

(Huawei HQ, Shenzhen, China)

The best thing about US President Donald Trump is his transparency. It immensely helped the world community through this past two-year turbulent period to see America’s real face. Behind the veil of ‘exceptionalism’, the US statesmen right down to Barack Obama took care to camouflage American intentions and motivations. But Trump doesn’t waste breath making false pretensions about American exceptionalism and rule of law.

Trump’s latest remarks during an interview with Reuters testify to this. He is frank about the sensational case of the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the deputy chairperson of the Chinese smart phone giant Huawei, in Vancouver, Canada, on December 1, where she was on a  12-hour transit, on charges brought by US prosecutors of violating American sanctions against Iran and calling for her extradition to the US.

The Reuters quoted Trump as saying that he could intervene in the case against Meng, who is also the Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer and the daughter of the owner of Huawei, the flagship hi-tech company with an annual revenue of $92.55 billion in 2017, linked to the Chinese communist party. Trump said, “Whatever’s good for this country, I would do. If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made – which is a very important thing – what’s good for national security – I would certainly intervene if I thought it was necessary.”

Trump also told Reuters that the White House has spoken with the Justice Department about the case, as well as Chinese officials. “They (Chinese) have not called me yet. They are talking to my people. But they have not called me yet,” he said when asked if he has spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping about the case. In effect, Trump has brought in the Art of the Deal by linking the Meng case with the ongoing US-China negotiations over a trade dispute. This linkage demolishes the stance by the US officials that the Meng case is not political and has “nothing to do with a trade war.”

An intriguing aspect is that the detention of Meng coincided exactly with the highly publicized meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi in Argentina. Curiously enough, Trump has been exuding great optimism after the meeting with Xi in a series of tweets:

My meeting in Argentina with President Xi of China was an extraordinary one. Relations with China have taken a BIG leap forward! Very good things will happen. We are dealing from great strength, but China likewise has much to gain if and when a deal is completed. Level the field!” (3/12/2018)

“President Xi and I have a very strong and personal relationship. He and I are the only two people that can bring about massive and very positive change, on trade and far beyond, between our two great Nations. A solution for North Korea is a great thing for China and ALL!” (3/12/2018)

“Very strong signals being sent by China once they returned home from their long trip, including stops, from Argentina. Not to sound naive or anything, but I believe President Xi meant every word of what he said at our long and hopefully historic meeting. ALL subjects discussed!” (5/12/2018)

“Statement from China: “The teams of both sides are now having smooth communications and good cooperation with each other. We are full of confidence that an agreement can be reached within the next 90 days.” I agree!” (6/12/2018)

“China talks are going very well!” (7/12/2018)

“Very productive conversations going on with China! Watch for some important announcements!” (11/12/2018)

A stunning report in the New York Times last week claimed that when Trump was sitting down to dinner with Xi Jinping in Argentina to arrange a “truce” in the US-China trade war, he was actually unaware that the unprecedented arrest was about to take place in Vancouver. Reuters, in a subsequent report quoting US officials, also claimed that Trump indeed didn’t know about the plans to arrest the high-flying CEO of Huawei. One US official admitted nonetheless to Reuters that while it was a US Justice Department matter and not orchestrated in advance by the White House, Meng’s arrest could complicate efforts to reach a broader US-China trade deal but would not necessarily damage the process.

(Meng Wanzhou out on bail on Dec 11, Vancouver)

Meng was released on bail on Tuesday. But Meng is a Chinese princess, ranked 12th on Forbes’ list of top Chinese businesswomen, and her bail conditions include a $10 million surety (including $7 million in cash). Besides, Meng must stay indoors from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m, must remain within the Vancouver region (but away from the airport in Richmond), surrender her passports, wear an ankle bracelet monitor for GPS tracking, as well as obey security detail that follows her whenever she leaves one of her multi-million dollar Vancouver homes where she must reside in the interim—all at her own expense.

The intention seems to be to humiliate Chinese national pride and wreak trade concessions. A VOA commentary quoted Ming Xia, a professor of political science and global affairs at City University of New York, as drawing satisfaction that  Meng’s arrest was another example of how members of Trump’s trade team know how to use very sharp, pinpoint moves to teach China a lesson.  “This is one of the U.S.’s many tactics and tools used in its trade war with China to maximize its gains. The arrest of Meng Wanzhou, I believe, should be seen in the context of the Sino-U.S. trade war,” Ming said.

Today, indeed, a substantial section of not only Trump’s administration, but of the “deep state” of the US intelligence bureaucracy and leading lawmakers seem to be pushing for an aggressive anti-China policy. Former Trump political adviser Steve Bannon praised Meng’s arrest as part of a “whole of government” approach to countering China. “Under Trump,” Bannon told the Financial Times newspaper, “you’re seeing for the first time all forces of US state power finally come together to confront China.”

Bannon’s words echoed a recent Pentagon study on the US defence industrial base, which called for a “whole-of-society” American approach to prepare for conflict with China. But the times have changed. The gunboat diplomacy of the 19th century is no longer feasible. Succinctly put, what is unfolding is plain gangsterism of the kind that calls to mind the great robber barons of American history — John Jacob Astor (real estate, fur), Andrew Carnegie (steel), William A. Clark (copper), Charles Crocker (railroads), Daniel Drew (finance) –-  who demonstrated the protean nature of American capitalism.