The Huawei arrest fueled another online surge of outraged patriotism in China

Image: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
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When Canada confirmed it had arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei and the daughter of its founder, online patriotism and worry immediately surged in China. A hashtag referring to Huawei’s response to the arrest was the top trending topic (link in Chinese) on social media platform Weibo in early office hours of Dec. 6, with around 2.5 million real time searches.

Meng replaced her father as one of Huawei’s four vice-chairs in March, a move that was seen as signaling she could be a future leader of the firm. She was arrested at the request of the US, which is seeking her extradition, on suspicion of violating sanctions on Iran. China has already called for Meng’s release.

The US has long been critical of Huawei, warning that it has ties to the Chinese state. Recently, amid growing tensions over trade and technology, the US stepped up lobbying of allies to limit (paywall) their use of Huawei cellular equipment, expressing concern that the data being processed could be end up in the hands of the Chinese government. Huawei disputes that it is a threat to US national security.

Many online commenters saw Meng’s arrest as political. ”The disgusting United States, it is time to unite… we need to get united and face the outside [force] together. Let’s support Huawei, support JD, support domestic products. Come on, Chinese compatriots,” said a user called Sincerefeel.

“Looks like the US is coming after Huawei. It’s a serious situation,” wrote Lao Xu Shi Ping. “Huawei might not have done anything wrong but this is no longer an issue a company can fix. The loss of the US 5G market is roughly the same as losing the western, developed market. If Huawei is no longer competitive on telecom facilities, then it’s just a mobile phone firm.”

Another referred to the past weekend’s meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping in Argentina, from which they emerged declaring a trade war truce. That was on Saturday (Dec. 1)—the same day Meng was apparently arrested. “Do I have amnesia? Didn’t the two people just meet a few days ago. Didn’t they promise each other something? Why is this kidnapping happening now?” said Ai Lun Dou.

Chinese state-run tabloid Global Time also put out a slew of editorials and op-eds. “The US move obviously goes against the consensus reached between the heads of state of China and the US in Argentina,” said the paper in one of them. “Washington is attempting to damage Huawei’s international reputation and taking aim at the tech giant’s global market in the name of law… We call on the Chinese government and society to offer moral support to Huawei.”

One Weibo commenter quoted the following line from the patriotic Chinese blockbuster Wolf Warrior 2 (link in Chinese): “Chinese citizens: When you are in danger overseas, don’t give up. Remember, there is a strong motherland behind you.”

Today’s discussion comes just two weeks after Italian luxury house Dolce & Gabbana released an ad in China that portrayed clichéd tropes of Chinese culture, also prompting an online backlash and professions of patriotism. Furore over the ads was stoked after the circulation of insulting messages about China from designer Stefano Gabbana’s verified Instagram account to another user. Gabbana, one half of the design brand, said he was hacked. The company had to cancel a major fashion show in China and was dropped from e-commerce sites and department stores serving Chinese consumers.

Still, it’s hard to know just how representative online patriotic commentary is, due to widespread online censorship.