Huawei and China’s “hostage diplomacy” – The Diplomat


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Insights from Van Jackson.

Diplomat writer Mercy Kuo regularly attracts subject matter experts, political practitioners, and strategic thinkers around the world for her diverse insights into US policy on Asia. This conversation with Dr. Van Jackson, professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, is 296th in The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.

What does the release of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou and Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor reveal about China’s “hostage diplomacy”?

We have known for some time about the Chinese Communist Party that it emphasizes holism and connection in dealing with foreign policy issues. It is really the value of the larger relationship that dictates everything else. Hence, China’s turn to hostage diplomacy should be viewed as one of many tactical expressions of rivalry. This also means that the law does not precede political expediency; it is subordinate to him.

What is Beijing’s calculus behind this hostage diplomacy, and will it be used more often?

China’s willingness to engage in hostile diplomacy shows the state’s determination to support Huawei, which is an agent of the state. I think that was the intent too: to create leverage and create something in return. The politicized imprisonment of the two Michaels was a calibrated, rational act. Beijing doesn’t have a single tool for statecraft, but hostage diplomacy is clearly part of its repertoire now.

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How should US and Western governments prepare for China’s future use of hostage diplomacy?

There is very little you can do to prevent another state from doing hostage diplomacy. We’re in a post-jetsetter world where there is a very real personal risk of being physically in China, but statistically, that’s nothing to worry about. I think the best the US and Western governments can do is just make it clear to business travelers that there is this politically based personal risk of going to China. It’s like the State Department’s warnings of the dangers of traveling to North Korea, but less acute.

What impact will the Huawei extradition case have on the US-China technology race?

The Sino-US technology contest predated the Huawei hostage diplomacy saga and will continue long after. I see Meng Wanzhou’s indictment as something incidental to the larger US effort targeting Huawei. If you are a “western” tech company, there are many geopolitical risks you should consider when making decisions about partnering with Chinese companies or entering the Chinese market. But that should have been the case before Huawei.

Assess the impact of the Huawei debacle on US-Canada relations, as well as Canada-China relations.

The Huawei saga strengthened the foreign policy “hawks” in Canada, as far as that is the case. It was an affirmation for those already skeptical of China, and Canada had received ample pressure (from the US and UK) to do more to confront China. Before Huawei, Canada had broadly few specific reasons to antagonize China given its economic ties and generally liberal foreign policy. Canada is in a position that is suspicious of the US, but also more connected to it than China. It is the dance of protection between the great powers that many Asian countries do, but under the special circumstances of being a victim of hostage diplomacy with China and having the US as a neighbor.

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