A leaked internal document, purportedly from an official at Chinese telecom giant Huawei about the ongoing U.S.–Sino trade war, has generated much speculation due to the level of nationalist rhetoric in the memo.
On Aug. 16, Cao Shanshi, a well-known Chinese financial news personality and commenter, revealed the memo on his Twitter account, saying that Huawei President Ren Zhengfei had issued it to company staff.
“The reality we are facing now is that our relationship with the United States could become more tense, for which we should be fully prepared,” the document reads, according to Cao.
“There is no way out if we surrender. To become a man without a country means becoming a slave. We are not willing to become a slave.
“Therefore, we should cut down on marginal investments on multiple fronts, while increasing investment in key areas, to avoid the situation where our lifeline is in somebody’s hands.”
The language in the document attributed to Ren elicits memories of when China’s other major telecom firm, ZTE, was forced to temporarily halt operations after being hit with a U.S. export ban for violating sanctions against Iran.
The ban prevented the company from buying U.S. tech parts, which were necessary for manufacturing many of its products. ZTE only resumed work in June after the U.S. ban was lifted as part of a deal in which the company agreed to pay a $1 billion fine and submitted to strict compliance measures.
The rhetoric in the memo is similar to the tactic deployed by the Chinese Communist Party: China’s state media has published scores of articles to stir up anti-U.S. sentiment since the trade war began.
In 2017, Beijing urged citizens to boycott South Korean company Lotte Group, after the conglomerate agreed to lend some its land to host an American anti-missile defense system.
Since the recent conclusion of an annual secret political meeting of senior Chinese Communist Party officials at the resort town of Beidaihe outside Beijing, there hasn’t been any official statement regarding what Beijing would do next in its trade conflicts with the United States, with the exception of low-level talks between officials from two countries that will take place later this month.
As a result, Ren’s view on the trade war is considered significant because he is a Party member; a former representative to the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, in 1982; and a former engineer with the Chinese military (known as the People’s Liberation Army). Huawei’s ties to the military, detailed in a 2012 report compiled by the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, have alarmed the U.S. government.
Other countries, including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, have also raised security concerns about Huawei’s products, warning that they could be used for spying activities by the Chinese regime.
In January, AT&T backed off on a deal from selling Huawei’s smartphones because of security concerns.
On Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, many netizens were critical of the logic behind Ren’s words.
A netizen from coastal China’s Zhejiang Province wrote: “It is quite odd how a trade war could be connected to the fall of a nation. China has never fallen, what could be fallen is a corrupt government.”
“Why do I get the feeling that this is not an internal document, but a document intended for the public? Huawei, stop using such rhetoric to mock consumers,” wrote a netizen from Beijing.