US-China tensions spike as Washington slaps charges against Huawei (Third Lead)

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Washington/Beijing, Jan 29 (IANS) Tensions between the US and China flared up on the eve of their crucial parleys to end their bruising trade war after Washington slapped a series of criminal charges against Chinese telecom company Huawei and its detained top executive Meng Wanzhou, infuriating Beijing that decried the move as “unjust repression”.

The indictment filed on Monday by the US authorities against Huawei, two affiliates and Meng detailed allegations of bank and wire fraud. The company was also charged with violating Washington’s sanctions on Iran and conspiring to obstruct justice related to the investigation.

“We are announcing that we are bringing criminal charges against Huawei and its associates for nearly two dozen alleged crimes,” US acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said in a statement.

“The criminal activity in this indictment goes back 10 years and goes all the way to the top of the company. China must hold its citizens and Chinese companies accountable for complying with the law,” he added.

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Both Huawei and its Chief Financial Officer Meng deny the allegations.

China on Tuesday said the US was leading a “smear campaign” against Chinese companies and decried the move as “unjust repression”.

“For some time, the US has used its government power to discredit and crack down on specific Chinese companies in an attempt to stifle their legitimate operations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a press conference.

“We strongly urge the US to stop the unreasonable suppression of Chinese companies, including Huawei, and treat them objectively and fairly. There is a political motivation behind this case,” Geng added.

In a statement, Huawei rejected the charges, saying it didn’t commit “any of the asserted violations” and that it “was not aware of any wrongdoing by Meng”.

Washington and other countries have accused Huawei of spying for the Chinese government, a charge rejected by both Beijing and the telecom giant.

Meng, also the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was arrested in Canada on December 1 at the request of the US for allegedly evading sanctions on Iran.

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She has been since released on bail and her travel is confined to Vancouver and surrounding areas. She could face up to 30 years if found guilty on all counts.

On Monday evening, the Canadian Justice Department said it had received a formal request for Meng’s extradition to the US to stand trial.

The indictment alleged that Huawei misled the US and a global bank about its relationship with two subsidiaries, Huawei Device USA and Skycom Tech, to conduct business with Iran.

US President Donald Trump’s administration had reinstated all sanctions on Iran removed under a 2015 nuclear deal and recently imposed even stricter measures, hitting oil exports, shipping and banks.

A second case alleged that Huawei stole technology from T Mobile USA used to test smartphone durability as well as obstructing justice and committing wire fraud.

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The sweeping charges against Huawei came a day before the crucial meet between the Chinese and US officials to iron out their trade difference before the March 1 deadline of the truce in the trade war.

Chinese Vice Premier and Beijing’s top trade official Liu He was already in the US and due to meet his counterpart Robert Lighthizer and Trump.

Asked if Washington’s latest move could cast an impact on the meet, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Beijing’s position on trade war had always been consistent and clear.

China and the US are locked in an ugly trade war, which many describe as the biggest economic spat in history.

So far, both sides have slapped each other goods with $360 billion additional tariffs. The parties are in truce till March 1 to work out a solution to end the spat.

If the deal is not sealed, new fresh US tariffs on Chinese goods will kick in.

–IANS

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