The thing about growing tensions between independent States is that it has to be released sooner or later, either in a violent or diffusive way. In the present context, we are witnessing growing tensions between China and the free world led by the US over a peculiar situation- Beijing’s primitive methods of arresting citizens of other countries in order to gain unfair diplomatic leverage. But now, the US has checkmated China in its own game.
In the latest development, tensions have risen further with the US arresting four Chinese nationals over visa fraud accusations in a matter of days. One such Chinese researcher, identified as Xin Wang had arrived in the US last year purposively for conducting research at the University of California. Another arrested Chinese national- Chen Song, entered the US for conducting neurological research at Stanford University, while Kaikai Zhao was a graduate student studying machine learning and artificial intelligence at Indiana University. Juan Tang, a researcher at the University of California who was allegedly hiding in the San Fransisco has also been arrested.
All these Chinese researchers are said to have lied about their connections with the Chinese People’s Liberations Army (PLA) when they entered the United States. The US is accusing of PLA officers of posing as students and then stealing American secrets and intellectual property.
Tensions over detentions and arrests have been rising ever since Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei Chief Financial Officer (CFO) was arrested in Canada over accusations of secretly evading sanctions on Iran. Currently, an extradition request from the US is pending in the Canadian judiciary but the matter has already led to soaring tensions between the US and Canada on one side, and China on the other.
Huawei is an emotive issue with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime. It is the biggest private company in the Communist country and a valuable arrest for the Chinese government. Beijing was never going to take the arrest of Meng Wanzhou lying down. Therefore, the CCP resorted to “hostage diplomacy”. It arrested two Canadian nationals- Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat, and Michael Spavor, a businessman in December 2018.
Beijing’s message has been loud and clear- release Meng Wanzhou or let the two Michaels die. China is the only country that sponsors kidnappings if relations with a country go downhill. And Beijing is doing this quite openly. Chen Weihua, the European Union (EU) Bureau Chief of the State-owned China Daily newspaper, for example, tweeted, “People often fail to note that Meng is worth 10 Kovrig & Spavor, if not more.”
Meanwhile, an Australian national too was sentenced to death by China last month on smuggling charges, seemingly as a tit-for-tat measure following the Australian backlash against China.
Within Canada, anti-China sentiments have been rising. While the US keeps on pushing Ottawa for extraditing the Huawei executive, Beijing keeps threatening Canada with dire consequences for the two Michales.
For Canada, it was never really an option to escalate tensions any further after arbitrary detentions of its nationals in China. But the US has always had a precedent to go after Chinese spies posing as students. The FBI has been since long warning about the issue of American Intellectual Property theft by China and the Justice Department too had launched China Initiative Campaign in the year 2018 to investigate this issue.
Now, with the FBI cracking down and four Chinese nationals in the US getting arrested, the equations have changed upside down. Before Beijing thinks of bullying Canada and the detained Canadian nationals any further, it will also have to care for the four of its own citizens currently in the US. The CCP cannot simply let the issue go because these four people have started hogging limelight and questions will be asked within China too.
A spate of arrests on foreign soil has caused a sense of disorderliness and the soaring tensions will get triggered at some point in time. Most likely, the extradition of Meng Wanzhou to the US will open a can of worms. The Trump administration would want to use it as an opportunity against Huawei and by necessary implication- against China too.
Ultimately pressure building up on both sides will have to release. Either China will have to crumble under the weight of the high stakes involved in the entire transaction of events or it will have to be a hostile release of pressure. In either situation, tables have turned against China with the arrest of four Chinese nationals in the United States and the possibility of more such arrests as the FBI cracks down relentlessly.