China called on Washington on Tuesday to “stop the unreasonable crackdown” on Huawei after the U.S. escalated pressure on the tech giant by indicting it on charges of stealing technology and violating sanctions on Iran.
Beijing will “firmly defend” its companies, a foreign ministry statement said. It gave no indication whether Beijing might retaliate for the charges against Huawei Technologies Ltd., China‘s first global tech brand and the biggest maker of network switching gear used by phone and internet companies.
Huawei denied committing any of the violations cited in Monday’s indictment by the Justice Department.
The charges are the most serious allegations yet against Huawei, which has spent a decade battling U.S. accusations that it is a front for Chinese spying and a security risk.
The Chinese foreign ministry complained Washington has “mobilized state power” to hurt Chinese companies “in an attempt to strangle fair and just operations” for political reasons.
“We strongly urge the United States to stop the unreasonable crackdown on Chinese companies including Huawei,” said the statement read on state TV. It said Beijing will defend the “lawful rights and interests of Chinese companies” but gave no details.
The charges unsealed Monday accused Huawei, which passed Apple Inc. in mid-2018 as the second-biggest global smartphone brand after Samsung Electronics Ltd., of trying to take a piece of a robot and other technology from a T-Mobile lab that was used to test smartphones.
The U.S. charges included no allegation Huawei worked at the Chinese government’s direction. But Washington has previously accused Beijing of involvement in cyberspying and theft of industrial secrets. It has charged several Chinese hackers and intelligence officials.
Huawei also is charged with using a Hong Kong front company, Skycom, to trade with Iran in violation of U.S. controls. Prosecuters allege Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, lied to banks about those dealings.
Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, was arrested Dec. 1 in Vancouver, a development that set off a political firestorm between China and Canada.
“We urge the U.S. to immediately withdraw the arrest warrant against Miss Meng Wanzhou and stop making such kinds of extradition requests,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang.
Huawei, headquartered in the southern city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, has rejected the U.S. accusations.
“The company denies that it or its subsidiary or affiliate have committed any of the asserted violations of U.S. law set forth in each of the indictments,” a Huawei statement said.
Huawei is “not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms. Meng, and believes the U.S. courts will ultimately reach the same conclusion,” it said.
Meng is out on bail in Vancouver and is due in court Tuesday as she awaits extradition proceedings.
Huawei’s U.S. market evaporated after a 2012 congressional report said it and Chinese rival ZTE Corp. were security risks and told phone companies to avoid them. But Huawei says the scrutiny has had little impact on its business elsewhere.
The company says it serves 45 of the 50 biggest global telecom carriers and forecasts its 2018 global revenue should exceed $100 billion for the first time despite the tension with Washington.
Huawei said U.S. prosecutors rejected a request to discuss the investigation following Meng’s arrest. It also noted the allegations in the trade secrets charge were the subject of a U.S. civil lawsuit that already has been settled.
The latest charges could dim prospects for U.S.-Chinese trade talks due to start Wednesday in Washington.
President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, agreed Dec. 1 to put off any further sanctions against each other’s exports while they negotiated. A breakdown would likely lead to higher tariffs, a prospect that has rattled financial markets for months.
While U.S. authorities stress the independence of courts, “ordinary Chinese people all believe it is a deliberate crackdown on Huawei,” said Lu Feng, an economist at Peking University.
“From the U.S. perspective, it is a law enforcement issue, but from China’s viewpoint, it has a link to Chinese-U.S. trade relations,” said Lu. “The difference in understanding will bring about complicated problems.”
Asked about the possible effect of the Huawei charges on the talks, the foreign ministry spokesman, Geng, said, “as for the China-U.S. trade talks and our position on this, I think the U.S. is also quite clear about that.”
The Justice Department officials provided details from a 10-count grand jury indictment in Seattle, and a separate 13-count case from prosecutors in New York.
The Seattle charges allege that beginning in 2012, Huawei plotted to steal information about T-Mobile’s robot, known as “Tappy.” It says Huawei engineers secretly took photos of the robot, measured it and tried to steal part of it from T-Mobile’s lab, according to prosecutors. T-Mobile declined to comment.
AP researcher Yu Bing in Beijing and AP writers Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Christopher Rugaber in Washington, Rob Gillies in Toronto and Tali Arbel in New York contributed.