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Col. Larry Wilkerson explains that it’s not the Chinese Huawei executive that violated law when circumventing US sanctions, but it is the US that violates them by imposing sanctions that were never agreed to on an international level

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GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert.

This past weekend, China issued a strong condemnation of Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Meng was arrested last December 1, and is now awaiting a bail hearing in Canada. The Chinese government warned Canada last Saturday that there would be severe consequences if it did not immediately release Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer, calling the case extremely nasty. Meng Wanzhou faces extradition to the United States, which alleges that she covered up her company’s links to a firm that tried to sell equipment to Iran despite sanctions. She’s also the daughter of the founder of Huawei. If extradited to the United States, Meng would face charges of conspiracy to defraud multiple financial institutions, a Canadian court heard on Friday, with a maximum sentence of 30 years for each charge.

The news of Meng’s arrest caused turmoil in stock markets around the world for the past week because of the uncertainty it throws on US-China negotiations to stop a trade war. Joining me now to analyze this latest development in US-China relations is Colonel Larry Wilkerson. He’s the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, and currently teaches at the College of William and Mary. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me.

GREG WILPERT: Meng Wanzhou was arrested on the same day that US President Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping were meeting at the G20 summit in Argentina talking about how to resolve the trade war between the two countries. Apparently Trump did not know about the impending arrest of Ms Meng. What do you make of this? How is it possible that a key Chinese citizen would be arrested without the President’s knowledge, and throw a wrench into very delicate trade negotiations?

LARRY WILKERSON: Well, of course the administration’s response–I would have probably written this response, too, if I were caught out in such an incompetent and unprofessional act, and that’s what it was–but their response was simply that the legal is separate from the political, from the diplomatic. And this was a legal affair, and therefore doesn’t impinge on diplomacy, nor does diplomacy impinge on it. That’s, of course, a farcical answer. In any number of other areas where legal affairs and diplomacy intrude on one another the administration has taken fairly strong positions one way or the other. So that’s their explanation.

But to go to the heart of the matter, I suspect that this is just a tempest in a teapot with regard to the ultimate trade negotiations going on. China has to make its pro forma protestations, and we have to make our pro forma comments on why we did it, and why it’s separate from diplomacy, and the trade negotiations, and so forth and so on. Those are two dimensions of it. A third dimension is that this company is probably guilty of a lot worse than breaking sanctions with Iran–and I’ll come back to that. In terms of stealing things from the United States or from others in the West, in terms of technology transfer and other things that impinge on US security and our allies’ security, this company is probably one of the principal agents in the world. So I personally have no problem with someone finally taking some action to make it public that they are doing so, and get it out of the top secret codeword areas where people have to deal with it. I suspect strongly that NSA intercepts of perhaps her telephone calls may have led them to where they are.

But let me say this about the specific charge, supposedly, that they have, that she was talking about, or that she was condoning, or whatever, busting of Iran sanctions. I assume that what they mean, and I see no real specificity here, is that she was challenging the US sanctions on Iran. What, I might ask, gives us the arrogance of power to say that we can dictate in unilateral sanctions what somebody does with another country in terms of trade? Now, if they are specifying that she was breaking UN Security Council agreed sanctions of which China had been a signatory, or at least an abstainer in the vote thereon, then I can understand why there might be some anger and some legality, even, attached to censuring her, or even bringing her here and putting her on trial or whatever, if the evidence is really straightforward and damning and it was a UN-approved sanction.

Although that’s very difficult to argue, too, since we break those sanctions all the time, also. Case in point, when Donald Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear agreement with Iran, he broke the law. He broke international law and he broke domestic law. Custom and precedent has come to show that executive agreements are just right next to treaty law. And you’d have to counsel a whole bunch of people, get them all together and try to figure out exactly how this would boil out, but our Constitution gives treaty law the power of domestic law. And I wouldn’t vouchsafe an argument that an executive agreement was the same as treaty unless it was affected by, oh yes, the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and the European Union. That sort of approaches treaty law.

So in my view–and I’m not a legal scholar, but I’ve talked with a number of them–in my view, Donald Trump violated international law and even domestic law when he violated the nuclear agreement with Iran, which is precisely what he did. So as I said, this has a lot of complex dimensions. But most of those dimensions reflect badly on the United States rather than on the case specifically being talked about, although I don’t know all the details of that case yet.

GREG WILPERT: I actually want to turn to the point that you alluded to just a moment ago, about Huawei the company being involved in kind of, in basically other kinds of violations. And I’ve heard this before, that they might have been involved in spying; that they use their technology to provide information to the Chinese government. But if this is the case, wouldn’t be the more sensible approach to just, say, tell US agencies and US companies just not to do business with Huawei? How can that possibly justify an arrest of a Chinese executive?

LARRY WILKERSON: Well let me take two parts to that question; the first part being your implication that we should deal with them straightforwardly, and deal with American companies straightforwardly. Anecdote, here. General Electric. We’re at the National Defense University, and we are talking about–we being representatives of the CIA, the DIA, Singapore, Japan, Korea. Number of other countries. We are talking about this very subject. And with the Vice President for Government Affairs, as I recall, of General Electric. We are lightly and softly chastising him for having shared intellectual material with China, apparently, that allowed China to steal a march on us with regard to–need to be careful here. Let’s just say with regard to stealth technology. The response of that GE official was that he had a fiduciary responsibility. Our response to that was are you kidding me? Your responsibility to your shareholders is more than your responsibility to the United States of America and its security? Got pretty testy after that.

All to illustrate the fact that companies like Wal-Mart, and ExxonMobil, and General Electric, and IBM, and others, of course in the past have dealt with unsavory characters like the Nazis, for example, in the case of IBM. But today it’s a regular routine for these transnational corporations. For example, when I was at the State Department, some of our most formidable opponents in legal actions at the World Trade Organization were our own companies. That is to say, companies with their masthead in the United States like Wal-Mart, like ExxonMobil, taking positions in the WTO against their own country. So these companies really have no national allegiance. In many cases, their allegiance is to their shareholders and to their overwhelming and almost insidiously perverse profits. So that’s the first answer. You can’t count on American, so-called quote-unquote “American” companies, to do what they should be doing.

The second answer is some of this stuff is very dangerous. When it comes to submarine technology, especially ballistic missile submarines, when it comes to technology like that wrapped around the F-35 fighter aircraft, when it comes to technology associated with artificial intelligence and robotics and other more sophisticated areas of technology, this is getting very serious. It becomes a battle behind the scenes, if you will, that equates to economic warfare. And I think there is a dimension to that right now between the United States and China that I would actually label economic warfare. It of course is happening with other countries, too, like Russia. To a certain extent we’re waging economic warfare, one-sided economic warfare, against Iran. And this is a dangerous area for the states of the world to get into, too. But we’re doing it, and companies like Huawei, and people like this CFO and others are–and American corporate leaders, too, are complicit in this war. And they’re in it for one reason, I think. Money. Greed.

GREG WILPERT: So another aspect of this whole incident is that Canada’s participation–that is, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said that he didn’t know about the impending arrest, either, and implied that it was carried out by local authorities in Vancouver, where she was arrested. But just looking at what does this mean for Canada-China relations? I mean, is Canada bending over backwards now to do the Trump administration’s bidding? What do you think?

LARRY WILKERSON: That’s a good question. And having been there for four years at the very top of this business, looking at demarches being sent around the world, and so forth; looking at Beijing, looking at Tel-Aviv, looking at Tokyo, looking at, for that matter, Ottawa, and dealing with all these things, I would have to say that 90 percent of the time or better the governments do know what’s going on. That is to say, the leadership knows what’s going on. John Bolton, of course, when I heard him, said that the President didn’t know this was going on. In Trump’s case I don’t doubt that that’s not probably true, because he doesn’t seem to have much attention for detail. But that Bolton didn’t tell him was an indictment of John Bolton, not the president. So I don’t know, but I would suspect strongly that all of the leaders involved here, except maybe for Xi Jinping, knew that this was coming down the pike, and had agreed that they were not going to stop it from coming down the pike for various and sundry reasons, and you’ve just suggested one of them for Canada.

I was involved in some of the Joint Board activities with Canada when we were dealing with the Red River, dealing with the Columbia River, and other things. And I have to say that our northern neighbor knows which side of its bread is buttered, and who butters it. And at the end of the day, Canada may stand up and seem to be bold in the face of the giant to its South’s wishes. But it rarely really is. It knows its economic future and present is pretty much dominated by the United States, and it knows that if it doesn’t follow what the United States wants it to do in most cases, it will be punished. And it does not wish to be punished the way we punish people these days.

GREG WILPERT: Now, Meng’s arrest was ostensibly, as we mentioned earlier, for subverting US sanctions against Iran. Would you say that this arrest is a sign of things to come in terms of how the US is going to deal with companies that in some way circumvent US sanctions against Iran? Or is this a very specific incident that has more to do with the complicated state of US-China relations at the moment?

LARRY WILKERSON: Both. But the one part of it that truly worries me–I’m not that concerned about US-China relations. They will survive. Trade relations will survive. I’m not altogether opposed to what President Trump very artfully, imperfectly, and even incompetently is trying to do, and that is to balance the trade relationship a little bit better. I think there are a lot better ways to do it. But I do appreciate that unlike President Obama and previous presidents, he has at least taken some action, and some forceful action. At the same time, as I say, I don’t think US-China relations are going to be majorly disturbed by this. I am very concerned about the way we wield the sanctions acts in the world. I don’t know how many countries we have under sanctions right now, but it’s probably half the world in one way or another; individual states, or parts of states, or whatever. And there is a very powerful movement aborning in the world to de-dollarize the world because of those sanctions and the arrogance with which we implement them.

Our congress is majorly guilty in this business. They think the best weapon to throw at everybody is sanction that person, sanction that state, sanction them, put more sanctions on them, and so forth. Well, there’s a lot of people out there. We’ve got about 330 million in this country. Now there’s about seven-plus billion in the world. And in polls, about two and a half to three billion of those people say that the number one threat to the security of their state, of their country, of their children’s future is the United States of America. Part of the reason for that is our arrogance, and the way we do this business with sanctions and war. And we’re creating a lot of enemies in the world. We’re creating a lot of rancor. A lot of people really don’t want to see us succeed in the future. This is not a way to be doing business in the world. And Donald Trump, unknowingly, unwittingly, probably, because he thinks he’s doing great things, is augmenting and accelerating that disgust and hatred for the United States in the world.

Now, listen to what I just said. That Statue of Liberty sits out there and raises her lamp and says send me your teeming hordes, you know. We have been that image at least for most of my life. If not a perfect image, certainly an image that many of us try to live up to. Now the image of us is the same image you see in, for example, the movies about the Empire and the Jedi knights and Darth Vader, and so forth. Dick Cheney gets called Darth Vader all the time, and he laughs. He smiles at it. He actually likes that sobriquet. That’s what we’re becoming to the world. We are the Empire. We’re the Battlestar out in space that will shoot them at any moment, sanction them at any moment. Lots of people in the world despise us, fear us, and hate us; 400 million of them in Southwest Asia basically think we are the biggest threat to their future, and wish dearly that we’d get out of their area and leave them alone. This is not a way to preserve this empire. This is not a way to preserve our power. This is not a way to deal with the world. And yet it seems to be the only way we know.

GREG WILPERT: OK. We’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Colonel Larry Wilkerson. Thanks again, Larry, for having joined us today.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network. If you like Real News Network stories such as this one, please keep in mind that we have started our winter fundraiser and need your help to reach our goal of raising $400,000. Every dollar that you donate will be matched. And unlike practically all other news outlets we do not accept support from governments or corporations, and depend on our viewers. Please do what you can today.

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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.