The Huawei executive arrested in Vancouver is far more valuable than a couple of Canadians, a senior Chinese journalist has said – the latest online post from a Chinese government employee to attract global attention and condemnation.
Days after the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, Chinese authorities detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were both formally charged with espionage last week. Critics have accused China of “hostage diplomacy,” a charge Beijing rejects, although even Chinese scholars have said the arrests are linked.
But Ms. Meng is unusually important to China, argued Chen Weihua, the European Union bureau chief for the China Daily, who frequently writes columns for the newspaper.
“People often fail to note that Meng is worth 10 Kovrig & Spavor, if not more,” Mr. Chen said in a tweet this weekend that he later deleted.
He was responding to a tweet from the Wall Street Journal’s Beijing bureau chief, Jonathan Cheng, a Canadian citizen, who noted that The Globe and Mail publishes daily the number of days that Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor have been in detention. As of Monday, the count is 560.
Mr. Chen says on Twitter that his opinions “are 100% my own” and, in an interview with The Globe, said, “Those who think I speak for my paper, [the Communist Party of China] or the government simply don’t understand China or they deliberately pretend not to.”
But his comments were quickly disseminated by expatriate Canadians in China, a group already worried about the possibility of further reprisals as extradition proceedings against Ms. Meng continue in Vancouver. She is accused by U.S. prosecutors of fraud related to the violation of sanctions against Iran. Her lawyers say she has done no wrong.
Andrew Work, president of the Canadian Club of Hong Kong, asked whether Mr. Chen was “channelling a message that China thinks they should grab another 18 Canadians of similar status (however that is measured)?”
Mr. Chen’s comments were “typical of the Han chauvinism and ultranationalism that the Chinese Communist Party has been cultivating over the years,” said J. Michael Cole, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. It’s a kind of language, he added, “disturbingly reminiscent of past behaviour by totalitarian regimes that vowed disproportionate retaliation against ‘lesser peoples.’”
The China Daily is a central fixture of Beijing’s efforts to disseminate its views abroad. The newspaper calls itself a “government agency” on LinkedIn. Facebook has labelled it “China state-controlled media.” Mitch Moxley, a former journalist with the newspaper, has written that it employed a Communist Party member to scrub copy of “political mistakes.”
In recent years, Chinese diplomats and state media workers have grown increasingly assertive on social media, using polished English to engage with global audiences on platforms blocked in China. Hu Xijin, the editor of the nationalistic tabloid Global Times, regularly offers commentary and news scoops that influence global coverage of China. Late last year, the spokesperson’s office for the Foreign Ministry in Beijing opened a Twitter account, following the success of Zhao Lijian, a diplomat turned top government spokesman who has attracted almost 700,000 followers on Twitter.
China’s new tone in foreign affairs has been called “Wolf Warrior,” after a popular action film in which a retired Chinese commando leads a rout of American-led mercenaries.
Mr. Chen has adopted a similar tone in his writing and on his Twitter account, where he has called U.S. democracy “dysfunctional” and U.S. President Donald Trump a “racist.” His Twitter account was briefly suspended last year for a tweet suggesting that Hong Kong protesters would be shot by police were they in the U.S. Twitter faulted him for “inciting violence.”
He offered no apologies for his strong language. It is for others to adjust to the new style, he said. “It is like the fast rise of China. Some in the West have yet to get used to it and accept it.”
His tweet about the relative value of Ms. Meng, he said, was meant to indicate that Huawei “is more valuable than others. Otherwise, why would the U.S. viciously attack it using a whole government approach?”
He said he is not familiar enough with the cases of Mr. Kovrig or Mr. Spavor to speak about them specifically. “What I do know is the U.S. case against Huawei is not about violations or others,” he said. “It is purely a geopolitical game.”
Asked whether Canada should ignore its legal obligations to the U.S. when a Chinese citizen is concerned, Mr. Chen said: “Huawei is different and very special.”
But is it fair for China to arrest a foreign citizen in response to that person’s home country arresting someone important to China?
The answer, Mr. Chen said, is “mostly yes. If they violated laws, they should probably be arrested.”
He deleted his tweet about Ms. Meng to be sensitive to the families of the two men, he said.
Others saw it differently.
“It might have cut a bit too close to the truth of how they view the issue,” said Yuen Chan, a senior lecturer in the department of journalism at City, University of London.
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