At a closed-door security meeting of US companies in Singapore on Thursday, one topic was critical on the agenda: the arrest of a top executive at Chinese tech giant Huawei and the potential backlash on American firms operating in China.
Officials from major US companies who visited the event, a scheduled meeting of the local chapter of the US Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), voiced related about retaliation against American firms and their executives, two people with knowledge of the meeting said.
A number of attendees stated their companies were considering restricting non-essential China travel and looking to move meetings outside the country, one of the people added.
Security executives for companies comprising Walt Disney Co, Alphabet’s Google, Facebook, and PayPal Holdings attended the meeting, as per to the sources and a LinkedIn posting by one of the attendees.
The companies all declined to say or did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.
Following the publication of this issue, Google spokesperson Taj Meadows said in a statement that it “misrepresents” what happened at the meeting. He asserted that there was “no discussion on the record or behind closed doors about the arrest of a top Huawei executive or about American companies operating in China.”
Meadows also stated that he was not at the meeting and could not say whether attendees discussed China travel informally.
The discussions at the meeting underscore matters rippling through US businesses in the world’s second largest economy, already facing a delicate balancing act amid a tense trade standoff between Washington and Beijing.
The official agenda for the meeting, held at Google’s Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore, included presentations on economic crime and terrorism in the region. OSAC promotes “security cooperation among American private sector interests worldwide and the US Department of State,” according to its website.
But informal conversations among attendees recently turned to possible risks in China prompted by the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer and “heiress” of Chinese telecom network equipment giant Huawei Technologies Co, who was detained in Canada on December 1. The news of the arrest was made public on Wednesday.
Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder, was held at Washington’s request as part of a US investigation of a said scheme to use the global banking system to evade US sanctions against Iran, people familiar with the probe said.
The arrest has roiled global markets amid fears that it could further inflame the Sino-US trade row.
Risk consultants and analysts stated that the arrest could prompt Beijing to retaliate in some form.
“This will pressure a lot of Chinese officials to look strong in this dispute,” said Nick Marro, Hong Kong-based Asia analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, who further said that technology companies were particularly at risk.”This could mean either taking a stronger stance on trade negotiations or taking a stronger stance on US tech firms in China right now.”
Questioned whether there would be any retaliation against any foreign executives in China, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday China has always protected the lawful rights of foreigners in China in accordance with the law.
“Of course in China, they should respect China’s laws and rules.”