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It Has Been A Blistering Week In U.S.-China Relations


It appears that China has detained two Canadians in possible retaliation for Canada's arrest of a Chinese tech executive. And as for the U.S.-China trade clash, China now seems to be making some big changes that could please the Trump administration. To help roll through all of this, we turn to NPR's Rob Schmitz, who is in Shanghai. Hi there, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So it's been quite a news week in the relationship between the United States and China. Can you give us, like, a quick timeline of what exactly is happening and get us up to speed a little?

SCHMITZ: It's been a little crazy.


SCHMITZ: Let's start with Monday. On Monday, there's a bail hearing for Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada on that day. Meanwhile, in China on Monday, police detain a former Canadian diplomat in what appears to be retaliation for Meng's detention in Vancouver. As we've reported, Meng faces extradition to the U.S. Tuesday, the judge in Vancouver lets Meng out on bail, and that same day, President Trump says he might scrap U.S. charges against Meng if China would agree to a trade deal that satisfies him.

Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reports China's planning to scrap it's Made in China 2025 program. That's their plan to dominate a range of tech sectors that has angered the Trump administration. And today Chinese authorities detain, or announce that they've detained, a second Canadian citizen. So more retaliation for Meng's detention. But on the other hand, we also learned that China has again started buying U.S. soybeans.

GREENE: OK. A lot there. Let's start with Meng Wanzhou. She's from this, you know, one of the biggest companies in China. Beijing was furious that she was detained in Canada. And now President Trump is saying that he might intervene. What kind of message is he trying to send Beijing here?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Of all the news that broke this week, this comment from President Trump signaling to the Chinese that he's prepared to interfere in the U.S. justice system in order to make a trade deal may have the farthest-reaching implications. I spoke to Scott Kennedy about this today. He's with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And he said Trump's comments break with U.S. policy mixing issues of national security and commercial relationships in a way that makes everything negotiable.

SCOTT KENNEDY: I think at the end of the day, it's in U.S. interests to keep these as distinguishable as possible. One is a national security issue. One is about the commercial relationship where you're going to need to negotiate, give and take. Protecting American national security should not be something that's negotiable.

GREENE: But it seems, Rob, that China might be thinking that things here are negotiable. I mean, if they've detained two Canadians in China, it looks like it could be some kind of tit for tat. What do we know about the two people who are detained there?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Monday night, Beijing's Ministry of State Security apprehended former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig. Today we learned that police in Dandong on the border with North Korea detained another Canadian, named Michael Spavor, on the same day. He runs a nonprofit organizing cultural exchanges with North Korea. Authorities say they're investigating both of them for harming China's national security, but they haven't given out details yet.

GREENE: OK. Whether or not either or both of these countries is mixing national security and trade, it does sound like China's beginning to soften its line in the trade war. Is that fair to say?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Despite all this ratcheting up of political tensions, on the trade front, China and the U.S. seem to be making a lot of progress. China reportedly may scrap its Made in China 2025 campaign to please the Trump administration. This was China's plan to dominate tech and AI globally by using Chinese companies. And Beijing just resumed purchases of U.S. soybeans. So these are all things that President Trump has asked for. So the rollercoaster just keeps on going.

GREENE: NPR's Rob Schmitz covering that rollercoaster for us in Shanghai. Rob, thanks, as always.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.