The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An unlikely winner in the China-U.S. trade war? A French businessman’s book about his battle with the DOJ.

Chinese copies of "Le Piège Américain" or "The American Trap" are displayed for sale in a coffee bar at the Huawei Songshan Lake New Campus in China. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

A new book is climbing the bestseller lists in China. Originally published in French under the title “Le Piège Américain,” or “The American Trap,” the book is a work by Frédéric Pierucci, a former executive of French energy and transport giant Alstom who spent two years in a U.S. prison for his role in a bribery scandal.

Since publishing in China on May 1, the Chinese-language version of the book has topped the “new book” list on Dangdang, a popular Chinese e-commerce site, and come in first on the overall sales list on Amazon’s Chinese website. It has also ranked second among business-management books on, another popular site, where it has 17,000 customer reviews as of this week.

But Chinese readers aren’t necessarily interested in a tale about French rail transport or energy systems. Instead, the book’s success seems to be related to the critical view Pierucci presents of American legal influence abroad.

The book’s sales in China seem to have risen since it was spotted last month on the desk of Ren Zhengfei, the founder of the embattled telecom company Huawei, currently at the center of U.S.-China hostilities. Huawei’s headquarters in Shenzhen has been giving out the books as gifts to recent visitors.

On Dangdang and, booksellers have made the parallel between the two cases obvious with a blurb calling Pierucci the victim of the “French version of the Huawei incident.”

Pierucci’s book opens with his arrest upon his arrival in New York in April 2013 on accusations of financial crimes by the Justice Department under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The French executive eventually pleaded guilty to his role in a worldwide bribery scandal, and his company agreed to pay $772 million in fines.

Bloomberg News reported earlier this year that the book, co-written with French journalist Matthieu Aron, is a “cautionary tale for globe-trotting executives at multinational companies increasingly facing the threat of litigation when they are allegedly on the wrong side of U.S. law.”

In the book, Pierucci describes two years of life in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island prisons and the backroom battles that influenced his case.

Pierucci’s case may seem familiar to Ren. His company is not only in the midst of a trade war with the United States, but his daughter and Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was detained in Canada on Dec. 1 and is facing extradition to the United States for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions law.

In interviews with Chinese state media, the French author has highlighted the links between his case and the one facing Huawei. Notably, the anti-corruption investigation into Alstom came as U.S. conglomerate General Electric sought to acquire Alstom’s energy operations.

“They’re using their laws to impose on the rest of the world,” Pierucci said during an interview with Chinese state broadcaster CGTN last month. “They are making laws, what we say as extraterritorial, that means they can touch every company and every employee in the world as long as they are a small link to the U.S. market.”

On the Chinese social media platform Weibo, the book has become a subject of debate and discussion — one user noted that it was the only book in the airport lounge in Shenzhen, a reflection of how keenly it is being considered in China’s technology capital.

Some analysts have said it is wrong to compare the circumstances of Huawei to Alstom. Chen Litong, a Beijing-based lawyer, wrote for the news site Caixin that although Alstom was rightfully accused of corruption, the primary U.S. complaint against Huawei was that it jeopardized the “so-called national security of the United States.”

“The comparison is quite interesting, as it reflects Chinese people’s emotion toward the United States at the moment,” Wang Yiwei, a professor with the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Wang added that the situations are not exactly the same, as Huawei is leading the field in the fundamental technological change of 5G telecommunications.

“Huawei’s challenge toward the United States and Alstom’s challenge toward the United States cannot be mentioned in the same breath,” Wang said. “Huawei’s challenge is more profound.”

Liu reported from Beijing.