BEIJING — Wading into a politically charged lawsuit, China’s top diplomat on Friday backed Huawei’s fight against the U.S. government and praised the company for “refusing to be victimized like silent lambs.”
The unusually sharp remarks by Foreign Minister Wang Yi represented the first time the Chinese government addressed a lawsuit filed this week by the technology giant, which is arguing in court that it operates independently of Beijing and has been unfairly stigmatized by congressional lawmakers who claim it poses an espionage threat to the United States.
Speaking to reporters, Wang slammed a litany of U.S. actions against Huawei and its executives as “by no means a pure judicial case, but a deliberate political move to bring them down” and pledged Beijing’s support.
“China has and will continue to take all necessary measures to resolutely protect the legitimate and lawful interests of Chinese businesses and citizens,” Wang said. “We support the company and individual in question in seeking legal redress to protect their own interests and refusing to be victimized like silent lambs.”
Huawei on Wednesday filed suit in the Eastern District of Texas, the jurisdiction of its American headquarters in Plano. It alleges that Congress unfairly singled it out for punishment by banning federal agencies and contractors from buying its telecommunications equipment in an annual spending bill passed last year.
The Department of Justice has also indicted Huawei executives on technology theft charges and are seeking the extradition of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou from Canada to face fraud charges. Taken together, the actions have been seen by China as part of a concerted U.S. campaign to cripple the company and cut down China’s chances of dominating next-generation telecom technology.
“What we want to uphold today is not only the rights and interests of a company, but the right to legitimate development as a nation,” Wang said. “It’s the right of all countries in the world to raise their level of science and technology.”
At the same time, Wang downplayed the anti-China sentiment in Washington, and said the current climate favoring hard-edge competition was a blip in the overall trend of four decades of bilateral relations. Mainstream American society still wanted to cooperate with China, he said, adding that progress in the two countries’ trade talks were widely welcomed and will eventually yield a satisfactory deal.
“Some people want the U.S. to ‘decouple’ from China but to me that’s obviously unrealistic,” he said. “To decouple from China would be to decouple from opportunity, to decouple from the future, and, in a sense, decouple from the world.”
Although Wang’s news conference every spring is heavily orchestrated with pre-vetted questions and scripted remarks, the event is typically the most significant opportunity for China to stake out a wide and expanding array of foreign policy positions before the gathered world press.
While relations with Washington loomed large, Wang this year urged for calm from both his country’s longtime ally Pakistan and India, a traditional rival to whom China is slowly warming up. He talked up Beijing’s affinity for Moscow, offered encouraging remarks about Japan, another traditional rival, and praised the summit meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “moving in the right direction” despite its abrupt conclusion last week without a deal.
Analysts and diplomats have been looking for clues as to whether China might roll back or rebrand its Belt-and-Road Initiative following criticism from host countries and Western capitals that the infrastructure investments and loans have saddled countries like Sri Lanka and Malaysia with unrealistic debt and served only to further China’s geopolitical reach.
The initiative, perhaps less highflying, remains very much alive. Wang said Beijing would host its largest B.R.I. summit this spring and offered a warm welcome to prospective new participants, including Italy, a country at the heart of Western Europe.
But he adopted a conciliatory tone, acknowledging that the project was still in its early stages and China was still learning and refining.
“We welcome any participants to offer constructive opinions so we can all negotiate together, build together and share together,” he said. “We’re injecting a strong impetus to joining hands and building a shared destiny for different peoples and countries.”