A Weakened China Tries a Different Approach With the U.S.: Treading Lightly

The New York Times
Date: Dec. 12, 2018
By Keith Bradsher, Alan Rappeport and Glenn Thrush

Despite the offense China has taken at the arrest of a Huawei executive, a move requested by the Trump administration, Beijing’s response has been measured.CreditCreditThomas Peter/Reuters

BEIJING — The recent arrest of a top Chinese tech executive at the Trump administration’s request seemed certain to provoke a geopolitical showdown pitting Beijing against Washington.

The detained executive is a daughter of one of China’s most admired business leaders. She helps run a company, Huawei, at the center of a global race to dominate the next generation of telecommunications technology. And her arrest, widely viewed inside China as a direct affront, comes at a time of already pervasive suspicion among the Chinese public and leadership that the United States wants to block China’s rise through a trade war.

Yet seemingly against the odds, Beijing decided to take a measured response to the Huawei incident. The Chinese leadership has compartmentalized the situation as a law enforcement dispute while making concessions on trade to help defuse tensions.

China’s tempered approach is borne, in part, out of a position of weakness. The country’s economy is in a sharp downturn, putting political pressure on President Xi Jinping to reach a deal with President Trump. American officials recognize the leverage they now have, wielding tariffs to extract concessions that Beijing has long delayed or rejected altogether.