‘Divide and conquer’: China puts the pressure on US allies

As tensions between China and the US mount over trade and the extradition of a senior Huawei executive, Beijing has reserved its most colourful language for America’s allies.

On Tuesday, China’s ministry of foreign affairs called on Canada to “stop pulling chestnuts out of the fire for the US” after the unsealing of a 13-count indictment against the Huawei chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested in Canada in December. An editorial in the state-run Global Times put it more bluntly: “You cannot live the life of a whore and expect a monument to your chastity … If Canada insists on wrong practice, it must pay for it.”

Analysts say China is trying to isolate the US by going after its allies. Two Canadians remain in detention in China over unspecified allegations of endangering national security and a third was sentenced to death for drug smuggling after a sudden retrial — cases widely believed to be retaliation for Ottawa’s arrest of Meng at the request of the US.

“China is trying to divide and conquer. It wants to put maximum pressure on individual countries and not have them band together,” said Thomas Wright, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Canada is not the only US ally to get on the wrong side of Beijing. Chinese state media called Poland an “accomplice of the US”, saying Warsaw “must pay for the offence” after Polish authorities arrested a Huawei employee on suspicions of espionage.

And an Australian-Chinese writer, Yang Hengjun, was detained in China just weeks after Australia voiced concern over China’s detention of Canadian citizens. Australian officials say they do not believe Yang’s arrest is related to the Huawei case.

“One tactic the Chinese Communist party appears to be using is to attempt to drive wedges between the US and its allies, with the goal of forcing countries to make a choice between the US and China,” said Samantha Hoffman, an analyst on Chinese security.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has departed from a decades-long policy of keeping a low profile, to assert itself more on the international stage. China is wooing more countries with economic projects such as the “belt androad” initiative, a massive global investment and trade push that will involve more than 70 countries and more than a third of global GDP.

As China’s economic presence grows worldwide, its lobbying efforts have expanded to Nato allies and other US partners previously outside the traditional range of US-China competition, according to Rorry Daniels, an Asia security expert and consultant.

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