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Beijing jumped into the fight between Huawei and the U.S. government Friday, telling the telecoms giant not to be “victimized” and that it has the full backing of the Chinese government.
The comments from China’s Foreign Minister, Beijing’s first official words on the Huawei dispute, ended the government’s previously conciliatory tone, and come in the same week that Huawei filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government.
“We support the company and individual concerned taking up the weapons of the law to protect their interests and refusing to be victimized like a silent lamb," Foreign Minister Wang Yi Wang said during a party conference in Beijing, raising his fist in support.
Huawei claims Congress acted unconstitutionally when it banned government agencies from using the company’s equipment in a bill signed by Donald Trump in August.
The U.S. government has long viewed Huawei with suspicion but tensions were raised significantly in December when Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada at the behest of the Justice Department.
Wang’s comments come as negotiators from Beijing and Washington thrash out a trade deal to end the long-running dispute over trade tariffs.
Negotiations could yield a possible second Mar-a-Lago summit between China’s President Xi Jinping and Trump, U.S. ambassador to China Terry Branstad said Friday.
Branstad described Huawei’s lawsuit as “not very smart” in an interview with Bloomberg Friday.
Huawei is viewed as a global success story inside China, and Beijing’s support will be viewed positively in a country where most citizens believe the U.S. is persecuting the company.
Conversely, Huawei is viewed in the U.S. as a national security risk, providing backdoor access to the government to spy on users around the world. China’s Friday statement will likely reinforce the view in Washington that the company has unusually close ties to the ruling Communist Party.
China is seeking to position itself as a world power in artificial intelligence, 5G networks, robotics and quantum computing, with the government pouring vast resources into research and development. Wang said that China would seek to protect that investment by backing companies such as Huawei.
“What we aim to protect today is not just one company’s rights, but the reasonable rights of a nation and a people to develop,” Wang said.
The White House has mounted a sustained campaign in recent months to convince allies to ban Huawei from their networks. But in Europe, where the company has an established presence, several governments — including the U.K. and Germany — have rebuffed an outright ban.
“Europe will surely keep its fundamental long-term interests in mind and pursue a China policy that is consistent, independent and forward-leaning,” Wang said.
Cover image: China's foreign minister Wang Yi attends a press conference at Media Center on March 8, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)