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Huawei Arrest Shocks Chinese Executives, Haier CEO Zhang Says

Bloomberg News
Huawei Arrest Shocks Chinese Executives, Haier CEO Zhang Says

(Bloomberg) -- The shock arrest of Huawei Technologies Co.’s chief financial officer as she switched planes in Canada is disturbing all Chinese executives, according to Zhang Ruimin, chairman and chief executive officer of household appliance maker Haier Group.

“What we worry about is, you can’t without reason impede a business person’s legitimate rights, even personal safety,” Zhang said in an interview in Qingdao on Monday. “No country would accept that, and the U.S. likes to talk about human rights the most.”

Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was detained Dec. 1 in Canada at the request of the U.S. on charges that she conspired to defraud banks so that they cleared millions of dollars in transactions linked to Iran, in violation of American sanctions.

Zhang, who is one of China’s most well-known corporate titans, said that the U.S. and Canada haven’t given clear reasons for the detention of Meng, who is also the daughter of Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei.

“It has created a shadow in everyone’s hearts,” and anyone traveling for business will be concerned, Zhang said. The CEO has transformed Haier from a collective enterprise in eastern Shandong province into one of the world’s biggest appliance makers.

Unsettled Markets

Meng’s arrest unsettled global markets and thrust China’s biggest technology company into the heart of sensitive negotiations between the world’s two largest economies.

Zhang’s sentiments revealed corporate China’s frustration with what they perceive to be a growing American effort to obstruct their legitimate business activities. Besides the ongoing trade war that’s levied a 10 percent tariff on $200 billion of Chinese exports to the U.S., authorities have also blocked Chinese acquisitions of American companies.

Haier acquired General Electric Co.’s appliances arm in 2016 for $5.4 billion, a deal Zhang acknowledged might be harder to pull off in today’s climate.

Haier helped bring the Louisville, Kentucky-based unit “back to life” and wants to contribute to the U.S., not harm it, said Zhang.

“GE has seriously declined, and our GE Appliances employees are feeling fortunate that Haier acquired this company,” he said. “If not, they might have been laid off.”

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Rachel Chang in Shanghai at wchang98@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Eric Pfanner at epfanner1@bloomberg.net, Thomas Mulier, John J. Edwards III

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