Commerce Secretary Raimondo turned into Huawei brand ambassador by China memes


An image of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaking at the Boeing hangar in Shanghai’s Pudong Airport last week made a splash on Chinese social media — not because of anything she said, but because it was supposedly taken with China’s hottest new smartphone.

The Huawei Mate 60 Pro, launched as Raimondo wrapped up a whirlwind four-day trip to China, has been heralded as a symbol of China’s technological advancement despite what many Chinese say are Washington’s best efforts to thwart it.

The phone relies on Chinese-made chips, according to consultancy TechInsights, and has touched off a wave of Chinese online mockery directed at Raimondo, whose portfolio includes export controls the United States uses to restrict China’s access to advanced chips and limit its ability to make them.

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Nationalist commentaries and posts on Chinese social media have touted the phone as a breakthrough for Chinese companies’ independence. But analysts warn its production likely involved American technology and machinery at least in part, prompting national security adviser Jake Sullivan to say on Tuesday that the government wanted more details on the precise composition of its chips.

Fake ad campaigns featuring Raimondo as a Huawei brand ambassador have splashed across Chinese social media platforms in the wake of the phone’s release. Many feature the phrase “far, far ahead,” which became popularly associated with the company after the head of Huawei’s smartphone business used it 14 times in one 2020 presentation to describe its relationship to peers.

“No commerce secretary has been tougher than I on China,” says Raimondo in the opening of one clip, followed by a montage of doctored images of her posing with Huawei’s new phone. The clip was posted by Chinese state television CCTV to Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok — suggesting a degree of official approval for the campaign.

The secretary’s own posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, have been flooded with sarcastic comments congratulating her for becoming Huawei’s brand ambassador and blasting the “far, far ahead” slogan.

Chinese social media platforms are likewise awash with posts hyping the phone’s capabilities and popularity. Joke videos show people barreling into crowded stores to get their hands on the phone with the desperation of someone grasping for water after wandering in a desert.

Other videos display the lines wrapping around city blocks to get into Huawei stores or feature speed tests of the phone conducted on moving trains and underground in subway stations. One demonstrated how it was possible to scroll through the phone using only hand motions while the device was immersed in a bowl of water several inches away.

Huawei’s new phone is a “resounding slap in the face to the trade bullying of American politicians,” Chu Yin, a senior researcher at the Center for American Studies at Zhejiang International Studies University, told Phoenix Television.

U.S. sanctions, begun under the Trump administration and continuing under President Biden, have been intended to cut off Chinese companies from buying or building the semiconductors used in advanced technologies with military applications, like artificial intelligence and big data.

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Fans of Huawei’s Mate 60 Pro say it proves that the effort has not been successful. Analysis by TechInsight suggests that the phone contains chips made by Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp., a company partially owned by the Chinese government.

Washington has already sought to block export of the machines that are required to manufacture chips like the ones made by SMIC.

The phone’s splashy release sparked calls in Washington for stricter controls on Huawei and SMIC. Chairman of the House Select Committee on China Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) on Wednesday called for an end to all U.S. technology exports to both SMIC and Huawei.

The Biden administration is currently mulling revisions to restrictions published last year, which could be issued within weeks.

Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily praised Huawei in a commentary on Wednesday, saying, “Chinese companies determined to innovate will not be easily knocked down by external pressure.”

Less than a week after its release, the phone sold out across major Chinese e-commerce sites. Still available for purchase: phone cases emblazoned with the secretary’s face and the Huawei logo.

Vic Chiang in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.


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